Was Lauren Sanchez’s dress too risqué to wear at the White House or is this the new posh-sexy?

Lauren Sanchez wore a red strapless and corseted design by Rasario to the White House on April 10
Lauren Sanchez wore a red strapless and corseted design by Rasario to the White House on April 10 - Getty

When an invitation to a state dinner at the White House arrives, most people’s first thought might not be to pick out a dress which contravenes all the generally accepted rules of demure, conservative black tie tradition.

But Lauren Sánchez is not most people. The fiancée of one of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, she has made her bold, unashamedly sexy style a cornerstone of her persona since ramping up her public appearances in the past few years as their relationship has become increasingly serious.

For Sánchez, the solution was to reach for a gown which encapsulated her love for anything revealing and figure-hugging, a passion which appears to predate her love for Bezos. She opted for a red strapless and corseted design with sheer panels by Rasario, a label which describes its designs as “a beautiful ode to femininity and sensuality”.

The dress ticked the full-length requirement of the black tie dress code but on top, the effect was perhaps more boudoir than state banquet with the lace bustier cut low to reveal Sánchez’s decolletage.

Online commenters shared a variety of opinions about the gown choice. “Stunning”, “goddess” and “so beautiful” were some of the look’s positive reviews. But others thought that Sánchez had made a misjudgment; “a little inappropriate for a dinner at the White House”, “you were in the presence of the President of the United States and other distinguished guests, so why did you dress like Kim Kardashian” (little did this person know that Sánchez has spoken about exchanging style tips with Kardashian in the past) and “not a good look… where’s your respect” read more comments underneath the post Sánchez shared on Instagram.

Stunning or inappropriate? Lauren Sanchez with fiancé Jeff Bozos
Stunning or inappropriate? Lauren Sanchez with fiancé Jeff Bozos - Tasos Katopodis/Getty

As a former news presenter and journalist, Sánchez will be all too aware that she’s both perfectly entitled to wear whatever she pleases, wherever she likes and that others can have an opinion on that choice. If she is confident and comfortable, then it doesn’t necessarily matter. There’s no suggestion that she has offended anybody at the White House, either. If anything, Sánchez and Bezos seem to be two midlifers on a mission to prove that sexiness has no expiry date – see also, Sánchez’s Instagram shot of Bezos climbing out of the sea last summer in his swimming shorts, captioned by his beloved: ‘Is it just me, or is it hot outside?’.

Besides, Sánchez is leading a movement against the perception that ultra-rich people must always be swathed in cream cashmere or trussed up in old-school couture. A Vogue magazine profile last year of the woman who will soon become Mrs Bezos revealed that  “Sánchez uses a mug Bezos got her from Amazon, with the words ‘Woke up sexy as hell again’ splashed across the side”. She went on to say: “I always found it interesting that people say, ‘Well, Lauren, you definitely dress more for men.’ I actually dress for myself… But it works for Jeff.”

Fusty conventions of what it means to dress for a state occasion have also been slowly upturned over the years, anyway.

It was once considered quite daring for Queen Elizabeth to have worn a black velvet gown designed by Norman Hartnell for an evening meeting Hollywood stars in 1956. It was a risk which paid off. The designer later called it “the greatest triumph ever” although the Queen would go on to embody the most proper way of dressing for black and white tie events, invariably choosing a long white gown which covered everything but offered an excellent backdrop for all her jewels.

Queen Elizabeth in a black velvet Norman Hartnell gown greets Hollywood guests like Marilyn Monroe in 1956
Queen Elizabeth in a black velvet Norman Hartnell gown greeting Hollywood guests, including Marilyn Monroe, in 1956 - Getty

And it might seem entirely unremarkable now, but it was even considered noteworthy when Princess Diana wore dark evening gloves instead of white ones on the night she danced with John Travolta at the White House in 1985. Her stylist Anna Harvey received phone calls the following day congratulating them on such an adventurous choice.

Thirty years on, Michelle Obama pushed the envelope for the final state dinner of her husband’s presidency in 2016, donning a chainmail Versace gown which clung to her figure and showed off her arms (it did keep her bust safely tucked away though). She looked the most sexy a First Lady probably ever had until that point. “Most first ladies’ past state dinner styles could best be described as ‘high-end mother of the bride’,” wrote Vogue. “But here she was standing tall at the White House in a curve-hugging piece that could easily have been worn to the Grammys by Beyoncé.”

Looking ‘posh sexy’ now comes in many guises and can definitely be done without causing too much of a stir, whether it’s Queen Letizia of Spain in a one-shouldered red creation, that being a colour which automatically denotes sensuality, or Melania Trump in silver sequins with sheer panels, without actually revealing any areas of flesh which would raise an eyebrow. Jill Biden arguably took this route on Wednesday in an embellished column gown by Oscar de la Renta which was sheer underneath all the gems, although it was so heavily encrusted that she left almost everything to the imagination.

You can do posh sexy without causing a stir - like Melania Trump donning silver sequins with sheer panels in 2018
You can do posh sexy without causing a stir - like Melania Trump donning silver sequins with sheer panels in 2018, says Holt - Getty

Samantha Cameron has described the high-necked Alessandra Rich gown she wore for a state banquet at the White House as one of her favourite moments of dressing for the world stage and while it would never strike you as instantly sexy, something that’s close-fitting without being revealing can be all the more alluring for it.

As for the $2,300 dress worn by Sanchez on Wednesday, it is already sold out in most sizes, suggesting there might be more black-tie functions where it makes an appearance in months to come in all its sheer panelled, plunging neckline glory.

Four ways to do ‘posh sexy’ – without causing a furore

Be clever with your reveal/conceal balance

If there’s a slit on the leg, go more covered-up on the decolletage.

Beware of your colours

Some shades, like black, red or metallics will look instantly sexy, so think about paring back other elements.

Judge the occasion

If you’re attending a diplomatic or military event, you may want to err on the demure side. Something more personal and celebratory could warrant more experimentation.

Show off in sheer

Including see-through panels can make a gown feel sexier without it becoming inappropriate. Sheer back, décolletage or side areas can all work well.