Jill Biden does not want to talk about fashion. It’s one of the few sticky moments in her recent Vogue profile: the writer Jonathan Van Meter asks about her style, and gets shut down immediately.
Specifically, the First Lady “flashes a winning smile that says very clearly, ‘Let’s move on.’” Her communications director “looks uncomfortable,” but allows Vogue one small scoop. Biden doesn’t work with a stylist. “It’s all her,” she says.
Biden seems uncomfortable when asked about the Instagram profile that documents her every outfit, @drjillbidenfashion. She rolls her eyes. She wasn’t aware of it. Pandemic-era austerity and a desire to focus on bigger issues demand she play it cool.
“It’s kind of surprising, I think, how much commentary is made about what I wear or if I put my hair in a scrunchie,” Biden says. But she’ll give one quote: “I like to choose from a diverse group of designers. When I was planning my Inauguration outfits, that’s one of the things I considered.”
First Ladies are thrust into an impossible conundrum: their job is to humanize their husbands, and each one struggles against the suggestion that they’re mere adornments. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to play down the fashion. But despite her protests to the contrary, Jill Biden takes dressing very seriously. Especially in recent weeks.
There’s the Vogue cover, for which Biden’s decked in floral Oscar de la Renta. It’s high-necked and tea-length, with billowing sleeves. The look oozes a sort of unfussy, monied quality. It doesn’t scream “expensive,” but there is a whisper.
Biden, true to her word, has championed young American designers like Gabriela Hearst and Jonathan Cohen. Still she’s no slouch when it comes to pulling from heavy-hitting names, too.
In recent weeks she’s worn Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, and Dolce & Gabbana—twice. Her decision to put on the ever-controversial line, whose founders are still reeling from the fallout of a racist controversy in 2018, ruffled a few feathers on social media. But on a larger scale, it remained mostly unnoticed. (Melania Trump was a D&G fan, too.)
The 23-year-old UK student behind @drjillbidenfashion, who asked that her name not be used, told The Daily Beast that FLOTUS “often makes my job very easy.” Biden repeats many of her outfits—another attempt at deflecting attention away from fashion.
When attempting to identify an outfit, @drjillbiden fashion will check the social media accounts of Biden’s “usual designers” like de la Renta, Brandon Maxwell, or Veronica Beard. If the outfit is custom made, she’ll wait for the brand to confirm it on their Instagram pages.
@drjillbidenfashion said she’s noticed the First Lady recycle certain outfits “around 5-10 times” since the inauguration. “I think it’s a great message to send about sustainability in fashion and it’s also good optics during a difficult time when many people are struggling,” she said. “The fact that [Biden] wears her designer pieces several times balances the price.”
Biden knows what she likes and buys in bulk. The creator of her Instagram fashion page noted that the first lady has two versions of the same Narciso Rodriguez dress—one in black and one in orange. She wore the darker version to visit with families of victims in the Surfside condominium collapse this week.
“I can understand that repeating so much can be a bit boring from a strict fashion perspective, but I think it’s a very smart choice,” @drjillbidenfashion said. “I think it also comes down to Jill Biden as a person. I don’t imagine she’s wearing a brand new outfit every day when she’s teaching, and I think it’s a philosophy that she brought to the White House.”
Laird Borrelli-Persson, the Archive Editor for digital Vogue, thinks that Biden’s style is “personal and relatable.” But she understands why the First Lady gets defensive when asked about it.
“Women’s role in society has changed more than people’s perceptions of fashion have,” Borrelli-Persson said. “It might be 2021, but fashion is still associated with things feminine, frivolous; aligned with surface rather than substance. This is a false binary; of course it’s possible to be brainy and talented and care about clothes, but a double standard exists. There’s no doubt, however, how important it is for the American fashion industry to be supported.”
Samantha Barry, the editor-in-chief of Glamour, said that “Dr. Biden is the queen of brilliant monochrome outfits; there are countless examples of her looking elegant in all the colors you can imagine, especially around the inauguration.”
She’s right: Biden wore a matchy-matchy seafoam green coat and dress to the swearing-in. That evening she wore all white in Gabriela Hearst, with embroidery of the flowers of each state and territory on the trim.
But Biden has embraced prints of late, including a bold butterfly graphic on a Brandon Maxwell dress she put on to visit a vaccination clinic in Texas. Both of her Dolce & Gabbana picks have featured whimsical patterns; the one she wore to another event promoting the shot featured a zebra and lemon motif.
So Biden is getting a little more joyful with her fashion. It makes sense that she would use her clothing to herald brighter days as America attempts to emerge from a crippling pandemic. Along the way, she carves out the kind of style she wants to be remembered by—clothes that are memorable, but not the moment.
She’s worn one specific de la Renta dress several times that features a citrus print. It’s one of @drjillbidenfashion’s favorite looks. “I love that she wears it with yellow pumps,” the admin said. “It’s the perfect outfit for spring and summer. It never gets boring thanks to the print and giant accessories.”
That might be where the so-called “relatability” of Biden’s style lives. She’s a woman who cherishes clothes and appears to have fun getting dressed—even if she’d rather not talk about it. And does she really need to, anyway? The clothes seem to be speaking for themselves.