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Michelle Obama Fashion and Style Sensibilities

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Michelle Obama: secret punk? Nah, just savvy dresser.

  • Apr 27, 2009
  • by
Ever since I wrote an detailed critique of Michelle Obama's inaugural outfit, I've just been itching to comment on some of her recent outfits in recent weeks. The narrative she creates of herself through her clothes is a woman who's both conservative and contemporary. She's extremely fashion savvy, but uses her knowledge with restraint. Below, I do a play-by-play of some of her ensembles. You can reference the pics at the right as we go along.

Occasion: Meeting Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace (pic at top left, then clockwise)
What: Black satin opera coat by Jason Wu
For goodness' sakes, what do you possibly wear to meet the Queen? You want to try for something serious and formal enough to reflect the gravitas of meeting royalty, yet it can't look too formal or severe that it would upstage Her Majesty (that's what they call Queen Elizabeth, right?). In this case, Jason Wu's opera coat looks regal and chic, with enough dramatic heft in its billowing volume to mark the importance of the occasion. Black is a formal color, yet it's also very contemporary. You could either wear this to meet the Queen, or just to spend an Sunday afternoon at the MOMA.

Occasion: The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language School, London
What: Junya Watanabe sweater, Jason Wu dress, Jimmy Choo pumps.
OK, let's just call it out like it is: The Junya Watanbe cardigan doesn't work. It's distracting. I think Michelle might've tried to temper the contrasting sweater panels by matching her dress and shoes in blue, but it still doesn't quite synethsize this look. The fact is, this cardigan is something that Two-Face from Batman would wear ... in a nursing home. Watanabe is a respected Japanese designer, but sometimes his creations are too cutting edge, if nonsensical.

Occasion: Easter Sunday
What: Floral dress by Peter Som
Can we say Jackie O? At first glance, this sheath dress-and-cardigan combo is classic, respectable, and suitable ... if not boring. The light colors and floral print are exactly what any lady would be wearing to church on Easter. On closer inspection, however, the flower print is actually quite unusual. Not just your generic Talbot's floral silhouette of five-petal blooms, the purple irises are wonderfully intricate, like a pencil-and-watercolor drawing. The print itself is startlingly unusual enough to make you look twice. A nice nuance to a proper outfit.

Occasion: 2009 Governors' Dinner at the White House
What: Peter Soronen dress and Tom Binns pearl necklace
I never thought I'd say this of a First Lady outfit, but this ensemble could work at a Lower East Side party. Look at the disco-savvy sparkly strapless dress! And I'm impressed with any government official who would wear Tom Binns.  Binns is a jewelry designer who's known for his punk aesthetic (his creations will often incorporate gold safety pins, or '80s-era neon stones). It's significant that Michelle chose a pearl necklace, which references the single strand that was a trademark of Jackie O's. By wearing a big cascade of pearls by an edgy punk designer, Michelle specifically sends up the idea of that "proper" ladylike accessory. This pearl necklace is one that looks provocative, jovial, even a bit rash.

That actually sums up Michelle's sartorial versatility. She can do conservative one day, and then something that's almost edgy and punk-y the next. More than any other First Lady, Michelle seems to show a wry penchant for provoking — just a little bit enough to keep you looking. Though sometimes the risks fall a bit flat, you're still looking.
Michelle Obama, meeting the Queen Michelle Obama, 2009 Michelle Obama, Easter 2009 Michelle Obama, Governor's Ball

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March 26, 2010
Great review!
December 07, 2009
Just because she knows her designers doesn't mean she knows how to "put it together". And the idea that anyone would compare her to Jackie O is not only ridiculous, it's a down right fashion faux pas. She is shlumpy, frumpy and and doesn't do the clothing any justice. Too bad Mrs. Mc Cain doesn't get the fashion press that Michelle does, she'd blow her out of the White House in a DC second!
June 24, 2009
Yes, I do like her sense of style.....savvy, yet practical and she can wear a variety of "hats" so to speak. She's not a perfect size two either, doesn't try to be and I like that. With her height and penchant for style, I'd say she could get away with just about anything!
June 05, 2009
Though some find the ongoing commentary of Mrs. Obama's wardrobe to be lousy news/extra pimping for the new president, the simple fact of the matter is the First Lady and what she wears has usually had a great impact on women's fashion for years, and this is no different.  Me...I don't care much for fashion, but I enjoyed reading this article for the historical context.
April 27, 2009
i've been waiting for your take on this with baited breath ; ) thx!!
More Michelle Obama's Fashion reviews
Quick Tip by . December 07, 2009
knowing her designers doesn't mean she knows how to "put it together". And comparing her to Jackie O is a fashion faux pas.
review by . March 13, 2009
Michelle Obama
      Upon searching the net for celebrity gossip and info (yes, its my guilty pleasure) I ran across this photo of First Lady Michelle Obama rocking a purple bow tie.  Yes, I know its not an official  bow tie since it seems to be connected to her shirt, but it's still a bow tie. Anywho here she is entering the East Room of the White House where she witnessed President Obama sign an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls.    I …
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2009
Why is the media so concerned about her shorts. Its not like she was wearing a pair of daisy dukes with go go boots!
About the reviewer

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I'm a curious foodie, a devout fashion gawker, and an unrepentant print nerd. I work at one of the last mainstream commercial magazines that's still printing.      Other things … more
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Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is the wife of the forty-fourth President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States.

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.

Style and fashion sense

With the ascent of her husband as a prominent national politician, Michelle Obama, like all other first ladies, has become a part of popular culture. In May 2006, Essence magazine listed her among "25 of the World's Most Inspiring Women." In July 2007, Vanity Fair magazine listed her among "10 of the World's Best Dressed People." She was an honorary guest at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball as an "young'un" paying tribute to the 'Legends,' which helped pave the way for African American Women. In September 2007, 02138 magazine listed her 58th of 'The Harvard ...
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