Fancy Dress Face Off: Ann Romney vs. Michelle Obama

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After the dueling convention speeches Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, we can never really know which woman loves her husband more, or who more deeply prizes motherhood and PTA meetings and changing diapers and all that woman stuff. But we can rank them by other woman stuff: whose dress was more fierce?

Michelle Obama

Designer: Tracy Reese

What's so great about that designer: She's a pioneer. Reese is, according to The New York Times, "a successful self-made businesswoman who happens to be African-American, which on Seventh Avenue is a rare breakthrough."

Price: Between $395 and $450, based on similar designs.

Plusses: The dress showed off Obama's toned arms, which highlights Obama's physical fitness cause (even if her pushup technique is somewhat lacking). The fabric looked cool -- "From a distance, the dress had a shimmering effect, like wet paint in a blast of unreadable pastels, but in close-ups, viewers could practically study the pattern of the gold brocade," the Times' Eric Wilson says. She looked young and modern, especially with her flippy hair. She wore moderately-priced J. Crew pumps like a regular career gal.

Minuses: The nails were too much (see detail below). Maybe the pattern was distracting.

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Accolades: "As usual, she nailed it with her outfit," Fashionista said. "By most accounts, Mrs. Obama came up the winner, in a beautifully fitted dress that seemed a savvy choice in the era of high-definition televisions," the Times said. "Obama’s frock reflected her boardroom background without the boss-lady overtones. It was a contemporary style but not a self-consciously fashionable one," The Daily Beast said.

The nails:

Ann Romney

Designer: Oscar de La Renta

What's so great about that designer: He's a first lady tradition. De la Renta has dressed every first lady since Nancy Reagan -- except Michelle Obama. (He said mean things about Obama and then took them back.) 

Price: $1,990 from the pre-fall collection.

Plusses: Unlike many classic de la Renta first lady outfits, this wasn't a buttoned-up skirt suit that just kind of smells like old lady perfume when you look at it. (Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton both wore those sometimes.) The dress was soft and floaty. Her lipstick and manicure matched. Romney also had flippy hair -- in fact, they had nearly the same haircut. Romney picked the dress against the advice of her husband's aides. "The funniest thing of all is that [campaign senior adviser] Stuart Stevens, who wears his shirts inside out, is advising me on what dress I should wear," she said. "Frankly, I didn’t realize that Stuart had to weigh in on this — or my husband. It was going to be like my wedding night; I wasn’t going to let him know what I was going to wear. But now they have opinions."

Minuses: There was maybe too much contrast between the bright blue background behind Romney and her bright red dress. Plus, nothing says "I'm feeling my age" like three-quarter sleeves. She did not hold back on the gold bling (see detail below).

Accolades: "With her talk of home, hearth and determination, it was hard not to also think of Donna Reed – that ‘50s homemaker in pretty dresses and heels," The Daily Beast said. Romney "looked great" despite it being "a safe choice, to be sure," Fashionista said. "The cinched-waist silhouette gave off a ’50s homemaker vibe that surely cast Romney in a more relatable light to more than a few women in the audience, despite its four-figure price tag," Stylite explained. "Given all that well-publicized history, it's hard to take Romney's selection of an Oscar de la Renta dress as anything other than a neatly tailored fuck-you to Michelle Obama," Jezebel speculated.

The jewels:

Verdict: This was close. Romney looked like a traditionalist; Obama looked modern. Romney wore a cooler color, but Obama wore a cooler cut. The women had very similar haircuts. In the end, we have to reward risk-taking. Michelle Obama pulled it off.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.