Lauren Sánchez’s state dinner dress ignites red-hot debate over White House fashion

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun16,2024

In a town typically light on fashion and heavy on partisan friction, what one high-profile figure wore to a swanky White House affair has ignited a ferocious debate seemingly just as polarizing as politics in Washington.

Lauren Sánchez, the former TV host-turned-philanthropist and fiancee of Amazon founder and The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, turned heads at the White House last week when she sported a ruby red dress at the state dinner for Japan. The $2,300 corset gown by Rosario featured low cut, off-the-shoulder lace and a cinched waist. 

The spicy number set off a political fashion firestorm. A post on social platform X with a photo of Sánchez’s skin-baring garment garnered more than 4.4 million views.

Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez arrive hand-in-hand at the state dinner for Japan at the White House. Bezos didn’t answer when asked if he’d be donating to Biden’s campaign.— Judy Kurtz (@JudyKurtz) April 10, 2024

Many social media users were highly critical of Sánchez’s state dinner look, criticizing it as “totally inappropriate,” “embarrassing” and “the trashiest thing” to ever be seen at the black tie White House gala. 

But Kate Bennett, an ex-fashion editor who covered state dinners and countless other events as CNN’s former White House correspondent focused on the first lady, gave props to Sánchez for staying “on-brand” with her burgundy outfit. 

Sánchez’s style, Bennett said, “is unbelievably sexy, and feminine and she makes no apologies about it.”

“She’s doing black tie. Was it the traditional White House black tie? No. But maybe people are into governmental disruption,” quipped Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning senior critic-at-large. 

“Honestly, I think it’s kind of funny that traditional Washington got itself into a twist about a red dress and cleavage,” said Givhan, a famed former fashion writer. 

State dinner sartorial choices, Bennett said, “really run the gamut” and represent the “confused fashion zone” that exists within the nation’s capital.

“Some guests really lean into the country that’s being hosted, wearing certain colors or designers. And some look like they just grabbed something off the rack and ran out of the office to the state dinner. I mean, that’s what makes D.C. fashion D.C. fashion,” said Bennett, the author of 2019’s “Free, Melania: The Unauthorized Biography.”

“You’re never really sure, you never really have time, and you never really know what anyone else is going to wear. And that’s kind of different than any other city in terms of its style and fashion,” she said.

“There’s no written protocol, but it’s just common sense,” said one longtime East Winger, who has helped prepare state dinners. “If you have a question on what that might be, you could consult Miss Manners, but you have to use common sense.”

“I can’t say you haven’t had skin bared at the White House before,” the former White House official said, “but many people would probably choose something else and still be able to make a statement with a gorgeous gown.”

The Hill reached out to a Sánchez representative for comment.

Kelly Johnson, the stylist who reportedly helped coordinate Sánchez’s state dinner look, didn’t respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Deirdre Clemente, a historian who specializes in fashion and is the associate director of the Reid Public History Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said any kind of dress code is “inherently sexist because it’s regulating women’s bodies.”

“I think that her overt sexuality or something really irritates people,” Clemente said of 54-year-old Sánchez.

It’s not the first time that typically buttoned-up Washington has been bursting at the seams with chatter — and snark — as part of a clothing-related controversy.

Back in 1971, Sonia McMahon, the Australian prime minister’s wife, made headlines for sporting “the most daring but tasteful gown seen at the White House during the Nixon Administration” at a state dinner in the couple’s honor.

McMahon’s dress, described by The Sydney Morning Herald as a “regal cream full-length, slit to the thighs, with continuing side-panels filled with flesh-colored material,” made a statement.

The prime minister’s spouse, the Australian newspaper gushed, “put Australia on the map for Americans without saying a word.”

The couture discourse isn’t just confined to women in Washington. Then-President Obama famously ignited a fierce fashion victim debate in 2014 when he donned a tan suit at a news conference.

Then-Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said at the time that the suit showed a “lack of seriousness” taken by the commander in chief.

“There’s no way I don’t think any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday,” King said.

The White House defended Obama’s jacket in a statement issued a day after the viral moment, saying he stood “squarely behind the decision that he made” to “wear his summer suit.”

Like the Obama tan suit drama, Givhan said, the raised eyebrows over Sánchez’s style “says far more about Washington than it does about her.”

“Washington still has an astonishing capacity to be outraged by something related to fashion,” she said.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) has also found himself at the center of a fashion frenzy.

Last September, the Senate voted to require that business attire be worn on the floor of the chamber, following bipartisan backlash after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) attempted to loosen the dress code.

The move by Schumer was viewed by some as a way to accommodate Fetterman, who is known to opt for shorts and hoodies rather than suits at the Capitol. 

The “rules” of fashion, University of Nevada historian Clemente said, “are always changing.”

“As the boundaries of where we’re allowed to wear things, and who’s allowed to wear it, and in what context and when change, people get annoyed. Cultural change annoys people,” Clemente said.

The debate over duds in D.C. isn’t likely to die down anytime soon. While an official state dinner hasn’t been announced, President Biden plans to welcome Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House for a state visit next month. 

As for Sánchez’s gown choice, former CNN journalist Bennett said while the red dress wasn’t her taste, she gave props to the licensed pilot for staying true to herself.

“She certainly wore that dress with confidence, and that I think maybe made her more of a target. But I’m sure personally, that’s just how she is — she is incredibly confident.”

Clemente said she loves to see “when people dress for themselves and do what they want for themselves.”

“I thought she looked beautiful,” the fashion guru said.

“I like people who are willing to step into the fray and not care what people say because they’re still gonna wear that dress,” Clemente said. “I respect people like that.”

Asked what Washington might make of the fuss over Sánchez’s fashion years from now, Givhan said, “We might look back and think that this was the moment when Washington black tie doesn’t have to be so buttoned-up.”

“It can be fun, or sexy or edgy,” she said.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Lauren Sánchez’s state dinner dress ignites red-hot debate over White House fashion”
  1. Do you think the dress Lauren Sánchez wore to the White House state dinner was appropriate for the occasion?

  2. Sánchez’s style is unbelievably sexy, and feminine. She stayed on-brand with her burgundy outfit.

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