Whatever you thought of the most recent presidential administration, most people can agree that Michelle Obama will go down as one of the most fashionable first ladies in history. From the early days on the campaign trail in 2008 to today, Michelle has given the fashion press endless occasions to dissect and interpret her outfits. There's been a lot to discuss—and for good reason. Because, with Michelle, there was often more going on than just a cute dress.

"She will be remembered, certainly, for the way she used fashion as a form of communication," says Pulitzer-prize winning fashion critic Robin Givhan. For Michelle, fashion was its own kind of politics: She chose young designers from diverse backgrounds to promote a feeling of inclusivity and optimism; to state dinners, she wore gowns by designers whose heritage was linked to the visiting foreign dignitaries as a subtle nod of diplomacy; she mixed fast fashion labels with high fashion ones to prove that fashion could—and should—be accessible and approachable to all.

In short, she changed the way we think a first lady should dress and, in the process, inspired millions of women to have the guts to redefine their own wardrobes.

"In many ways, she has shown us that power can be pretty," says fashion journalist Kate Betts. "Women can dress for themselves and write their own rules when it comes to their wardrobes. They don't have to dress to fit into some subscribed code or some pre-existing notion of what power looks like."

But perhaps the most compelling hallmark of her fashion legacy is also the simplest: "Really, she wore what pleased her," says Givhan. "The pleasure of fashion was never lost in the complicated diplomatic conversation."

Here, a look at her 47 most important fashion looks—what message they sent and why they still matter today.