The Secrets of Dressing Michelle Obama

May 12, 2010

Since Mr. Obama was elected President in 2008, the fashion media have anointed he and his wife the second coming of the Kennedy’s.  It seems that many who live outside the Beltway feel perfectly comfortable with the notion that style took a 45-year hiatus, only to reappear in the form of super woman Michelle Obama come to save us all from our sartorial sins.  Perhaps this narrative, which I find painfully insulting to all the stylish women who have fought to lift D.C. over the years, is why I have never been all that impressed by Mrs. O’s style.  

Sure, the First Lady is well groomed.  Sure, she has taste.  And sure, she has had some glorious hits.  But she has a team of people to choose clothing for her, including a personal shopper in Chicago who handles all of her selecting, buying and tailoring.  She also has a voluminous clothing budget which allows for the purchase of Thakoon, Prabal Gurung, Naeem Khan and others.  And even with all that help there have still been some notable misses (Britain, anyone?).  All in all, I would say that she is a well-dressed person, but I would be skeptical of her ability to make headlines in Vogue and W were she still just a junior Senator’s wife.

Earlier this week, The Daily Beast featured an interesting article discussing the process by which designers try (mostly in vain) to dress the First Lady.  From the sound of things, it seems like you might have an easier time negotiating world peace than landing one of your creations on the back on Mrs. O.  But given the financial benefits (Jason Wu’s sales are up 40-percent thanks to Mrs. O), it certainly seems like a worthwhile fight.  

Here is an excerpt, but the whole article is certainly worth a read.

Some designers, including major domestic and international houses, have all but given up trying to dress the first lady. None would speak for the record out of dim hopes that someday maybe their time would come—or fear of winding up in de la Renta’s fashion purgatory. A few expressed frustrations with the inscrutable Goldman and with Mrs. Obama’s seeming prejudice against established figures like Donna Karan or Calvin Klein, in favor of young or niche designers. A few were critical of Mrs. Obama’s fashion missteps—those CdG cardigans, for example—and a developing sense of style, which Women’s Wear Daily, at pains to describe it, once called “more forced practicality than innate polish.”

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  1. Nicole says:

    I don’t think her mixed patterns was a miss. Mixing patterns is very “in” right now and Vogue recently wrote about mixing patterns in their latest issue. And I think her use of cardigans is appropriate, she is trying to make fashion more accessible.

  2. Belle says:

    I think there is a generational gap that you aren’t taking into account here when you talk about other First Ladies. Laura Bush, by no means, had a modern style but she was very well dressed. Nancy Reagan had some lovely ensembles but she was older and from another generation.

    I never said she didn’t have style. But if you compare what she wore before the stylist and after, big change. So I’m happy to admit that she is well-dressed and well-groomed and she does have style, but I just hate this idea that her style is life changing and we should all worship.

  3. Nicole says:

    I don’t think her mixed patterns was a miss. Mixing patterns is very “in” right now and Vogue recently wrote about mixing patterns in their latest issue. And I think her use of cardigans is appropriate, she is trying to make fashion more accessible.

  4. Belle says:

    I think there is a generational gap that you aren’t taking into account here when you talk about other First Ladies. Laura Bush, by no means, had a modern style but she was very well dressed. Nancy Reagan had some lovely ensembles but she was older and from another generation.

    I never said she didn’t have style. But if you compare what she wore before the stylist and after, big change. So I’m happy to admit that she is well-dressed and well-groomed and she does have style, but I just hate this idea that her style is life changing and we should all worship.

  5. Betty says:

    “But she has a team of people to choose clothing for her, including a personal shopper in Chicago who handles all of her selecting, buying and tailoring. She also has a voluminous clothing budget which allows for the purchase of Thakoon, Prabal Gurung, Naeem Khan and others.”

    Previous first ladies have had the same advantages and I feel, weren’t able to show some sense of fashion style as Michelle Obama has. DC may have a few stylish women trying to lift it but we still need a lot of help to compete with the style sense in other cities and I think Mrs. O is definitely helping inspire this. I would rather have a first lady who takes a chance on a fresher, younger style than one who plays it safe and stuffy. ūüôā

  6. Danielle says:

    So who is responsible for the misses, like the belts that always hit at the wrong spot on her torso, the weird print mixes, and the frumpy pants? Michelle or her stylist? Like this one:
    https://www.daylife.com/photo/061z1nA9Oc4uz?q=Michelle-Obama

  7. e says:

    She needs to stop with the cardigans. Cotton jcrew cardigans aren’t appropriate for EVERY occasion. Neither are sleeveless outfits in the middle of winter, at least, not for EVERY event.

  8. Serena says:

    I understand your frustration, but most style icons employ a team of people, including stylists. Even if you disclude celebrities, most people who grace the pages of fashion magazines (e.g. in the parties/society sections) at least have personal shoppers. And all of those people still make mistakes. Like the commenter said above, what most people like about Michelle Obama is that she dresses younger and takes more risks than previous First Ladies.

  9. Zoe says:

    I love our First Lady’s style. It is less matronly and far more modern than the past several First Ladies. Yes, she has misses, but don’t we all?

  10. ~M says:

    Sometimes her mistakes are frustrating because they’re repetitive, but I appreciate that she makes mistakes. I think the concern with many previous first ladies is that they have a veneer. It’s not hard to look polished when you were an Oscar de la Renta or Chanel suit every day, but you also don’t look interesting. Ms. Obama often looks interesting, if not always polished.

  11. Allison says:

    Betty hit the nail on the head. All other first ladies had the same access to stylists, but for years they have looked bad. I appreciate her determination to go for unknown names, it really helps those who are talented and trying to make their way in the fashion business. I don’t agree with her politics, but I definitely applaud Michelle O’s fashion choices.

  12. Nicole says:

    I don’t think her mixed patterns was a miss. Mixing patterns is very “in” right now and Vogue recently wrote about mixing patterns in their latest issue. And I think her use of cardigans is appropriate, she is trying to make fashion more accessible.

  13. Belle says:

    I think there is a generational gap that you aren’t taking into account here when you talk about other First Ladies. Laura Bush, by no means, had a modern style but she was very well dressed. Nancy Reagan had some lovely ensembles but she was older and from another generation.

    I never said she didn’t have style. But if you compare what she wore before the stylist and after, big change. So I’m happy to admit that she is well-dressed and well-groomed and she does have style, but I just hate this idea that her style is life changing and we should all worship.

  14. Nicole says:

    I think we can agree that she isn’t coming to CHS for advice, because although First Lady Michelle Obama may get it wrong occasionally, you get it wrong ALWAYS.

  15. Belle says:

    Oh, my hater is back. I’ve kind of missed you! Shocking that you keep reading here when you hate it so much, but thanks for the page views!

  16. Nicole says:

    oh Belle, you slay me,

  17. Emily says:

    I just found your blog. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts! And I LOVE your style. So please keep writing despite your “hater!” I think its hilarious someone who hates your style comes back to read? Ha does she realize she simply could stop coming to the site???

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