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Michelle Robinson was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After completing her formal education, she returned to Chicago and accepted a position with the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met her future husband. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center. Throughout 2007 and 2008, she helped campaign for her husband's presidential bid and delivered a keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. She is the mother of two daughters, Sasha and Malia, and is the sister of Craig Robinson, men's basketball coach at Oregon State University.
She has been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy due to her sleek but not overdone style, and also to Barbara Bush for her discipline and decorum. Her white, one-shoulder Jason Wu 2009 inaugural gown was said to be "an unlikely combination of Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy". Obama's style is described as populist. She often wears clothes by designers Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, Donna Ricco and Maria Pinto, and has become a fashion trendsetter, despite the country's economic woes.
She appeared on the cover and in a photo spread in the March 2009 issue of Vogue. Every First Lady since Lou Hoover (except Bess Truman) has been in Vogue, but only Hillary Clinton had previously appeared on the cover.
A desire has arisen among some that the media should focus more on the first lady's serious contributions rather than her fashion sense. She has stated that she would like to focus attention as First Lady on issues of concern to military families and working families. However, U.S.News & World Report blogger, PBS host and Scripps Howard columnist Bonnie Erbe has pointed out that her own publicists seem to be feeding the emphasis on style over substance. Erbe has noted on several occasions that she is miscasting herself by overemphasizing style.