On January 20th, 2009 – arguably one of the single most important days in American History – the inquiring minds of fashion enthusiasts and “Plain Jane’s” alike were consumed by one thought: What would the First Lady be wearing? Soon enough, we got our answers. By day, Mrs. Obama donned a lemongrass yellow Isabel Toledo shift, matching cardigan, and coat with olive green Jimmy Choos and leather gloves by J. Crew. And by night, she was certainly the Belle of the Ball in an ivory, one-shoulder, layered-chiffon gown by 26-year old designer Jason Wu.
So what came next? Feedback from the critics, of course. And they wasted no time going in on each ensemble, picking them a part thread by thread. For some, the color of the Toledo look just wasn’t right. Others objected to the choice of shoe. Many found her one-shoulder frock over the top and inappropriate for the weather. But then again, plenty found Michelle’s choices for the occasion right on target: to a lot of people, the First Lady can do no wrong.
The fact of the matter is, in a population so wide and diverse, full of contradicting opinions and more than enough platforms on which to voice them, Michelle Obama cannot please everyone. As a public figure, she is inevitably subject to criticism whenever she steps outside of her home. Yet, whether or not she intends to be viewed as a maven of style, her unconventional approach to White House fashion continues to stir up conversation. As the Washington Post’s fashion editor Robin Givhan so rightfully states:
“That is Obama’s challenge, not because it is her job to appease the aesthetic sensibility of 300 million citizens but because it is her fate as she steps into a role that is ill-defined and largely symbolic.”
It almost seems trivial to be discussing the wardrobe of a woman as poised, educated, and accomplished as Michelle Obama. Not only is she a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, but a loving mother of two, and backbone to the most powerful man in the world. She’s surely got her work cut out for her, and promises to be a very active and influential participant during Barack’s presidency. But we can’t help but to take note of her vibrant, youthful spirit, and unforgiving disregard to the traditional attire worn by many a First Lady before her. How refreshing it is not to be bored by the typical image of a boxy St. John suit, sheer pantyhose, and string of pearls? We’ve seen it all before.
Instead, Michelle embraces her own personal style, and dresses for her unique body type. She is very tall – nearly 6 feet – and has an athletic build, though you’d never be able to tell by her grace and good posture. So why wouldn’t she opt for the occasional pair of flats for comfort, or show off her fabulous arms? She also experiments with a wide variety of color and prints, never hesitating to put the idea of a basic black outfit on the back burner for days as a time. Purple, teal, and yellow hues? Flirty floral prints? What a lovely way to spice things up! And she even throws in bold accessories to bring new life to more classic and tailored silhouettes: throughout the Obama campaign, we could always count on seeing Michelle in a gemstone brooch, waist-cinching belt, or layered pearl necklace.
It also speaks volumes for a woman of her stature, with access to the most extravagant and luxurious designer collections worldwide, to opt instead for everyday stores and up-and-coming designers. As you may recall, the $150 White House/Black Market dress she wore on The View sold out overnight after the show’s airing. And I’m sure you can spot many of her favorite pieces at a J. Crew or H&M near you – Mrs. Obama loves to shop at both stores!
I guess as far as titles go, Michelle Obama as the “First Lady of Fashion” or “Style Icon” of our generation is up for debate. But what we can’t deny is the fact the she remains true to herself and doesn’t falter to take reasonable risks with her wardrobe. And ultimately, she has significantly influenced the buying trends of those who look to her as a fashionable figure. But at the end of the day, as my grandmother so wisely declared in a recent conversation of ours: “Michelle Obama will be much larger than the sum of what she puts on her back.” And rightfully so…