The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
No matter the words we choose or the speeches we give, the world sees the totality of who we are. The way we carry ourselves, how we put our shoulders back when times are hard, or offer a friendly smile even when we don’t agree. How we choose to show up for our communities—the small acts of kindness that are remembered long after they are offered.
And that includes what we wear.
Beautiful or dissonant, finely-crafted or thrown together—our style helps us express things that can’t be put in words. We reveal and conceal who we are with symbols and shapes, colors and cuts—and who creates them.
The history of American design is rich and deep. It is a story of innovation and ingenuity, of rebellion and renewal. It has often been written by those in the shadows, not recognized for their influence and art.
But here at the Met, their stories are told. Their voices are raised and their work can shine.
And that’s why I was so excited to accept Anna’s invitation to join you to celebrate this incredible exhibit and the education that is such a critical part of your mission.
As an English teacher, I have always believed in the power of language. But since I’ve become First Lady, I’ve been reminded that it’s only one way we communicate.
A few months ago, as the President was preparing for the State of the Union address, my mind was a world away. Like so many Americans, I was transfixed by the news of Ukraine, the bombings, the parents weeping over their children’s broken bodies in the streets.
As the State of the Union approached, I knew the only thing that would be reported about me was what I was wearing. So, I ordered sunflower appliqués—the flower of Ukraine and a symbol of hope and solidarity—and had one sewn on the cuff of my dress. It was small—but it shined against the deep cobalt-blue of my sleeve. And that night, sitting next to the Ukrainian ambassador, I knew I was sending a message without saying a word: that Ukraine was in our hearts—and that we stood with them.
Earlier today, I announced that, at the end of this week, I’ll be headed to Romania and Slovakia to visit our troops and spend Mother’s Day with Ukrainian families who’ve been displaced by Putin’s war. As a mother myself, I can only imagine the grief families are feeling. I know that we might not share a language, but I hope that I can convey—in ways so much greater than words—that their resilience inspires me, that they are not forgotten, and that all Americans stand with them still.
As we celebrate the designers and the fashion that has shaped the very identity of America, I hope it will inspire all of us to keep learning. I hope it will help us to see the beauty and art that surrounds us every day. And most importantly, I hope it will remind us to be bold and brave.
Thank you all for what you do and enjoy the exhibit!