Flip It and Reverse It

Oct 20, 2010

Frequent blog readers are well aware that I don’t consider Michelle Obama a Jackie Kennedy-esque fashion icon.  This is not to say that she isn’t usually well-dressed. The First Lady has worn some outfits that I really liked, but I don’t think that it is particularly difficult to look amazing when you have a stylist, a wardrobe budget and some of the nation’s top designers falling over themselves to dress you. 

My prejudice is not so much against the First Lady or her wardrobe.  Instead my objection lies in the notion that D.C. was a black and white world of sneakers and power suits until Mrs. Obama arrived to give life to our little corner of the map and make is glistening Cinderellas.  Having lived here for a number of years, I can honestly say that the District was on a steady style upswing long before 2008.  So while the First Lady has style and usually dresses well, I don’t think the characterization of fashion savior is accurate. 

Now that we’ve gotten that clarification out of the way, let’s talk about her most recent wardrobe choice.  Because, frankly, I’m on the fence about it.

In this photo, Mrs. Obama is wearing a paisley (?) printed silk blouse underneath a basic navy cardigan and navy twill pants.  The outfit is the kind of business casual attire that more women should try to incorporate into their wardrobes.  It’s tonal, simple and yet, pulled together.

When I initially saw this photo, I liked the outfit.  I wasn’t desperately in love with it (or the lace up cardigan–seriously, what is that?), but I embraced the concept and thought she looked nice.

This second photo was taken a few weeks before the previous pic.  It shows the First Lady wearing the same outfit in reverse.  As you can see it is the same blouse and sweater, but the laces are worn in the back.

To be honest, I prefer the sweater this way.  And it’s certainly an interesting way to rethink an outfit, just like Amanda Seyfried did this summer on the red carpet.  But I’m wondering if this look will have women everywhere reversing their sweaters, blouses and dresses.

What are your thoughts?  Are you suddenly overcome by the desire to flip it and reverse it?

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  1. Chelsea says:

    Or maybe the sweater laces on both sides? Either way, not my favorite.

  2. J. says:

    I'm pretty sure that Jackie Kennedy also had a wardrobe budget, someone to help her get dressed and designers eager to dress her. The fact that Michelle Obama has taken a completely different route in dressing than any other First Lady makes her a style icon. She wears a lot of affordable, youthful and practical clothes that no other First Lady has done. Laura Bush kept to pants suits and Oscar de la Renta gowns. So did Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush. The fact that she is able to do that, with the politics that are involved in anything she wears, makes her very iconic. But of course, this is simply my opinion.

  3. tia says:

    I don't know how many women are wearing Alaia, Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, L'Wren Scott, Naeem Khan, Thakoon, Nina Ricci and their peers on an almost daily basis. It was news when she wore J.Crew and Donna Ricco, but that was a long time ago.

    I was unapologetic in my love for the Mrs. O until I saw her at a couple of events. I didn't appreciate when she wore Lanvin sneakers to the food bank.

    She's stylish and iconic, but sorry Belle, I don't find her to be someone I can look to for inspiration.

  4. tia says:

    Oh, and the Kennedys were wealthy. Jackie bought her own clothes most of which were designed for her by Oleg Cassini. Why? Because her husband got tired of the French fashions that she always wore. Didn't think it was American for the wife of the Pres to be wearing foreign clothes.

    The only way to decide if Mobama is like Jackie O will be in twenty years. You don't become an icon in 18-months.

  5. J. says:

    I think you do if you're the first First Lady in memorable history, aside from Jackie Kennedy, who spurs headlines for your fashion choices on a daily basis. And she may not wear cheap clothes that ANYONE could purchase all the time but you have to admit, Naeem Khan, Thakoon and Nina Ricci are much cheaper than the Oscar de la Renta that all other modern First Lady's have relied on. But more importantly, she dresses in a way that ANYONE could dress. She may wear a Thakoon sweater but it's a sweater that can be easily found in more affordable alternatives. To me, that says a lot.
    Whether you like her clothes or not, you can't ignore the influence that it has had. Far more so than any other First Lady since Jackie-o.

  6. e says:

    Chelsea – the sweater doesn't lace on both sides. (I saw additional photos of the backward one.) I think it just looks like she put on her sweater backwards, and I don't like it. But regardless of personal opinion on the “backward look,” I think if she's going to repeat the exact same outfit, mroe power to her – but you can't fool anyone by wearing part of it backward.

  7. e says:

    Also – I don't think she's a fashion icon at all. I feel like all I ever see her in is cardigans or sleeveless, and many times in inappropriate settings – for example, a cotton cardigan to meet the queen of England, and sleeveless tops all winter long last year.

  8. Belle says:

    Actually, your average OdlR retail gown runs between 3k and 10k. Naeem Khan and Nina Ricci cost about 6k for a gown. So the gowns cost about the same. As for the regular dresses, Odlr costs about $1,500 to 2k avg. Prabal Gurung is in the 3-4k range, and the only Nina Ricci dress I could find in the day dress category was a little under $3,500.

    Just because they are less prestigious doesn't mean that they're “much cheaper.” If anything, they're equally unattainable.

    I agree with Tia though. If Mrs. O is still a hot topic in twenty years, I lose this argument. Til then, I believe she has style but isn't an icon.

  9. Laura says:

    I like the sweater both ways, its different.

  10. Zoe says:

    Totally agree with you J. Even if Michelle Obama wears clothes that are expensive, she makes them accessible. She isn't stuffy and just has a fresh new and playful approach to fashion. I have no doubt that in 20 years she will still be a hot topic and will have influenced the way future first ladies will style themselves.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I appreciate that she shows women that they can look put-together without wearing pantsuits day in and day out. I also think she uses color much more effectively than most of the First Ladies who came before her. The backwards sweater is a bit Kriss Kross-esque to me, but for the most part, I appreciate that she is a great example of a successful, stylish woman.

    I think the main issue is that “style icon” is so overused these days. It seems like just about everyone has been called a style icon at one point or another now.

  12. gingerr says:

    I the the backwards sweater/blouse is strange. She may be spending too much time with middle-school girls.

    I think her formal wear always looks good. It's the casual outfits that sometimes look like they have fit issues. It's hard to tell if they really do or if they just don't photograph well.

  13. A blogger I read, The Cosmopolitan Clevelander, just reversed a cardigan for a '50s-esque look with buttons along the spine. I loved it but don't think it's necessarily a look I'd try for myself.

  14. J. says:

    But Belle, I'm almost certain that when previous First Ladies have wore Oscar, they were customized pieces created specifically for them. Actually, I'm positive that Laura Bush wore customized Oscar de la Renta. That stumps your whole price argument. First Lady Michelle Obama usually doesn't go for custom pieces. Most of the time when she wears a designer's gown, they don't even know it until they see the photos in the news. Not only are they pieces that are attainable by anyone, if you have the money, but they are styles that are chic and easily replicable.

  15. Belle says:

    That's true for her every day attire, but her special occasion attire is sometimes custom made. And Laura Bush wasn't having her everyday pant suits custom made.

    Sure I can replicate trousers and a cardigan or a floral printed dress. But I could also replicate Hilary Clinton's headbands and plaid blazers, and Laura Bush's signature khakis and button up with sweater around the shoulders.

    The majority of the pieces Mrs. Obama is wearing are not attainable for the average person making 52k a year. Does that mean she shouldn't wear them? No. But money gives you more freedom to be stylish.

    If I could afford Vivienne Westwood suits and Isabel Toledo frocks, I'd be the best dressed staffer on the Hill. Having the means makes you well dressed it doesn't make you an icon.

    We'll see whether people still talk about her in 2050. If they are, then I lose.

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