Michelle Obama’s Fashion: On Message

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Eric Thayer / Reuters

Obama arrives on stage in a pink and gold toile Tracy Reese dress before addressing the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.

Throughout Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, Democrats have framed the contest as a choice between a wealthy businessman who would fight for the 1%, and an incumbent president who cares about the middle class. At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, this theme is so pervasive that even Michelle Obama’s fashion is on-message.

The First Lady walked on stage Tuesday night in $245 pumps available at mass retailer J.Crew and a pink shift with a refined jacquard pattern designed by Tracy Reese. The outfit wasn’t flashy, nor was it out of reach for the average consumer: a similar frock retails for $448 before sale. But it was striking nonetheless and showed off Obama’s notoriously-toned arms.

“I was extremely moved by Mrs. Obama’s speech last night and was so proud to have the opportunity to dress her for such a memorable occasion,” Reese told TIME by e-mail. “She looked beautiful, and it was wonderful to hear her speak sincerely from her heart.”

(PHOTOS: Michelle Obama’s Defining Fashion Moments)

The understated dress, which seemed to embody the down-to-earth, blue collar message that Obama delivered in her speech, stood in stark contrast to the bright red number that Ann Romney wore one week earlier during her speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. That dress, with an estimated cost of $2,000, was made by high-fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, the same designer who made both Laura Bush’s and Cindy McCain’s outfits at the 2008 convention. De la Renta is also one of the few couturiers who have openly criticized Michelle Obama’s fashion choices. In 2009, de la Renta told fashion trade publication Women’s Wear Daily, “You don’t…go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater”—in reference to the black cardigan Obama wore to meet Queen Elizabeth II—and in 2011, he blasted the First Lady for choosing a European designer (Alexander McQueen) for an official State Dinner with China.

The First Lady, a fashion industry darling known for promoting young designers such as Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung, has yet to wear de la Renta. And if her husband’s campaign message remains the same, it’s safe to say she won’t—at least until after Nov. 6.