Guests of the state dinner in honor of French President Francois Hollande reinforced the notion that most women abide by the mantra “when in doubt, wear black.” The fashion was nearly all a variation on this theme — in versions short and long.

Though there has been a movement towards shorter hemlines at black tie events in Washington, the knee-length and cocktail dresses felt under-dressed when compared to the first lady’s Carolina Herrera ball gown. The voluminous inverted pleat skirt and embroidered top pushed the standard closer to white tie.

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and her dad, William. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Dressing for a state dinner can be a challenge. In addition to traditional concerns, guests Tuesday night had to plan for freezing temperatures and dinner in a tent. A successful dress for such an evening typically is tasteful with only a touch of sex appeal.

Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles told reporters upon entering that she hoped her black leather dress with sheer panels “wasn’t too slutty. . . . But it’s the president of France,” she quipped. ‘Sluttiness’ did not seem the problem, rather fit and a lack of cohesion with the setting were the issues. Compare that with another top fashion editor at the state dinner in honor of British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 and it read a bit contrived.

Joanna Coles (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Vogue editor AnnaWintour arrives for the sdinner for the Prime Minister of Great Britain on March 14, 2012 (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post).


Mindy Kaling suffered from a similar problem with fit. The white David Meister looked unforgiving and could have probably benefited from a sturdier fabric.

Mindy Kaling (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

British model Suki Waterhouse entered the White House hand-in-hand with boyfriend Bradley Cooper in a two-toned blue dress with long smoking jacket over top. The jacket was appropriate and in keeping with her ‘60s style.

Bradley Cooper and Suki Waterhouse (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

IMF director Christine Lagarde wore one of the few pops of color in a full-length purple sheath. As did Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a haltered teal gown.

Christine Lagarde (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Samantha Power and her husband Cass Sunstein (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)


Mary J. Blige looked svelte in a red v-neck dress, as did Evie Colbert, wife of Stephen Colbert, in bright cornflower blue.

Mary J. Blige (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)


Stephen Colbert and his wife Evie Colbert (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)


More from the state dinner:

Michelle Obama’s state dinner dress

Transcript: President Obama gives state dinner toast

On state dinner menu, American wines by French natives