Michelle Obama : The First Lady of Style
Not since Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House has the style of a First Lady so captured the imagination of America. Michelle Obama, though certainly much more than just a fashionplate or a pretty face, has a fresh and modern style that is sure to set a tone that will inspire the average woman just as Mrs. Kennedy did in the 1960s. It is true that Americans have paid attention to the fashion choices of other First Ladies between the early Sixties and today, but it was usually more to critique than admire (remember the way people attacked Nancy Regan's $20,000 Inaugural gown in 1981 or Hillary Clinton's headbands in the early 1990s?). When Michelle Obama moved to Washington, D.C., she brought with her a sense of high fashion and easy elegance to a town that has long been mocked for its lack of style.
Michelle Obama has the ability to move between modern trends and more vintage-inspired styles with grace. She is also a woman who knows the sartorial value of a standout accessory, and she is not afraid to make bold color choices. All of this has added up to a First Lady that has delighted the fashion press, as well as stylish women nationwide. Besides the content of Barak Obama's Inaugural address, one of the most eagerly anticipated questions of that day was, "What will Michelle be wearing?".
And Mrs. Obama did not disappoint on January 20, 2009. For the Inauguration itself, the First Lady wore a stunning sheath dress with a matching coat by young Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo. Michelle Obama has said that she chose the bright lemon grass colored ensemble because she wanted to wear something optimistic and charming on that historic day. Clearly, this is a woman who understands the power of fashion to communicate and send a message. Not to mention, the outfit looked fantastic on her! Knowing that the perfect accessories make the outfit, the First Lady topped off her sheath and coat with a beautiful brooch and a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps.
For her Inaugural Ball gown, Mrs. Obama chose to feature the work of another young designer, Jason Wu. Fashion savvy First Ladies have long known that the clothing designers they chose to wore did have an impact. When Jackie Kennedy became First Lady, she realized that it was important for her to wear American designers, like Oleg Cassini, rather than the French designers that she had previously favored. Some of Michelle Obama's other favorite young designers, such as Tracy Feith and Narcisco Rodriguez are bound to experience the same rise in their stature as Cassini did as a result of Mrs. Kennedy's patronage.
Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball gown was a beautiful ivory silk chiffon dress that was custom made especially for her. It featured intricate embellishments, such as tiny organza rosette appliqués, Swarovksi crystal rhinestones, and silver thread embroidery. The asymmetrical one shoulder style worn by the First Lady on January 20th turned out to foreshadow one of the hottest trends at the Academy Awards one month later. Not only did many of the celebrities wear one shouldered gowns to the Oscars, cream was one of the most popular colors that night. It looks like even Hollywood is turning to Michelle Obama for fashion inspiration. One doubts that the conservative long sleeved Inaugural frocks worn by First Ladies such as Laura Bush in 2001 or Hillary Clinton in 1993 were ever echoed by A-list celebrities!
On the evening of the Inauguration, the First Lady wore a spectacular pair of diamond chandelier earrings and arm armful of thin diamond bangles. It is clear that Michelle Obama has a love of fabulous jewelry and accessories. She also has an understanding of how to combine pieces with different necklines. For instance, when Mrs. Obama attended a performance at the Kennedy Center on February 6, 2009, she wore a turtleneck dress in tonal charcoal and black. To liven up the subdued color palette, she added a large eye-catching pearl brooch.
Classic jewelry has its' place, but the First Lady is also not afraid to choose more dramatic pieces for a special occasion. Michelle Obama looked resplendent in the bold multi-strand pearl and crystal necklace that she wore to the Governors' Dinner on February 22nd. It was a creative choice to pair with the sequined strapless gown that she wore to the black tie affair, and it showed that Mrs. Obama has the confidence to take some fashion risks. It is a necklace style that one can imagine many fashionable brides copying as wedding jewelry.
Pearls are clearly one of Michelle Obama's favorite adornments. Not only has she been seen in the pearl brooch, but the First Lady has been photographed wearing a variety of pearl necklaces, as well. She really has a great sense of how to complete an outfit with just the right piece. When the First Lady wore a bright cobalt blue sheath to the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2009, it was a classic strand of pearls that added the perfect balance to the strong color of the V-neck Proenza Schouler dress. Over another brightly colored dress, this time with a jewel neck, Mrs. Obama layered in a longer strand of pearls for a visit to Howard University.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Michelle Obama's fashion choices is that they are current without being too trendy, and that they feel entirely accessible to the ordinary woman. The First Lady is well known for mixing pieces from national stores like J Crew in with her more exclusive or upscale clothing. When she is photographed wearing a stylish pair of skinny jeans tucked into boots, or a chic all black outfit, women everywhere see themselves. A young lady wanting to emulate Mrs. Obama's graceful style can head right to her local mall to find pieces like signature belts, classic dresses, and bright pops of color in her shoes and gloves.
Michelle Obama will surely influence and inspire American women in many areas beyond fashion. That said, women everywhere will still be paying close attention to her fashion choices, both at home and abroad. Her clothing will be studied, both as inspiration, and for the subtle messages that the First Lady is sending with her garment choices (newspapers around the world took note of the cheerful outfit that she wore for the Inauguration.) Mrs. Obama will no doubt select her outfits with care, yet she has the unique ability to make looking good appear effortless. As a woman of substance, she knows that style is important, but that an easy elegance can be achieved without devoting your whole life to your appearance. Like Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama has a natural grace that makes her personal style fit her to perfection.