Interesting article about how Michelle Obama dresses herself

Michelle Ma Belle

By Eric Etheridge

Barack Obama had a pretty good trip to Europe last week, but his wife had a prettier one. Michelle Obama wowed them in London, Paris, Prague and other stops along the way before returning home, where her approval ratings have surged into the mid-70s.

What a short, strange trip it’s been. Only three months ago, Juan Williams said Michelle was “an albatross” for the president given the fact that she had that whole “Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going.” O.K., that was on Fox, but still, it was Juan Williams.

Now Tina Brown gushingly asks if Michelle is the “new Oprah?” O.K., she never exactly explains what it would mean to be the new Oprah, but still, it’s Tina Brown.

Actually, there are a few people who see something of a bad revolutionary attitude in the First Lady. Oscar de la Renta’s one. Vera Wang’s another.

Women’s Wear Daily had the scoop last Friday: “Where in the world are Donna, Ralph and Calvin?”

Certainly not on the spousal circuit at the G-20 summit in London. In fact, as President Barack Obama and 19 other global leaders huddle to ponder the world’s economic woes, Michelle Obama has reaffirmed with gusto her fashion support of America’s new and niche, and given anecdotal support as well to antiprotectionism via cardigans by Azzedine Alaļa and Junya Watanabe.

Yet, save for a recent digression to Michael Kors, Obama continues to show zero interest in the big guns of American fashion, those whose names resonate around the world, and who collectively employ thousands of people. Obama’s early appearances in the likes of Jason Wu, Thakoon and Isabel Toledo (with the punch of Narciso Rodriguez worked in for good measure), both captivated and charmed much of the country while exciting an industry that understands the myriad challenges faced by small fashion houses even under the best of circumstances. But as time goes on, with economic recovery feeling none too close and the Obamas’ honeymoon with the world still passionate enough for the First Lady’s sartorial choices to garner major, gushing headlines, should she diversify her wardrobe choices, especially as the industry prepares to celebrate her with a CFDA Board of Directors Special Tribute? Indeed, does she have a responsibility to do so?

Donna Karan told WWD that Obama’s flirtation with “niche designers” was temporary: “I hope and believe this is just a moment.”

“I love seeing young designers and their vision and how they grow and all of that,” said Vera Wang. “On the other hand, of course, I wish she would consider some of us.”

De la Renta got straighter to the point: “You don’t go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.”

Oh please, responded Gioia Diliberto in the Huffington Post. “Let Michelle wear what she wants.”

Diliberto reported that she’d been hearing for weeks what WWD finally reported:
Since the Inauguration, I’ve been hearing fashion insiders - designers, journalists and scholars complain that many of Michelle’s clothes by the relatively obscure U.S. designers Jason Wu, Isabel Toldeo and Thakoon Panichgul don’t fit right or are unflattering. They think that Michelle doesn’t have enough fashion savvy to know what looks good on her, and that she’s relying too heavily on Ikram Goldman, owner of the eponymous Chicago boutique, to choose her outfits. . . .
The designers say that Michelle will help the struggling fashion industry if she spreads her sartorial self around. But it’s hard not to read in their complaint a note of condescension. How can Michelle, who comes from a working class background and probably doesn’t know the difference between silk ziberline and silk twill, dare to snub them?
Michelle’s snubbing designers? “I don’t know whether to shake with laughter or with disbelief!” wrote Dmitcha, an African-American who’s a former model and a diarist at Daily Kos.
According to Dmitcha, the snubbing mostly goes the other way.

In Feb 2009, New York’s Fashion Week featured 116 labels and 3,697 runway spots. 668 of those spots - 18% - went to models of color. Not 668 models, mind you, because three of the top ethnic girls took up half of those spots with repeat appearances). That’s right, 18% women of color - ANY COLOR - on the runways and 82% white models. In New York City. So the real question should be “Donna, Ralph and Calvin, where in the world are your ethnic models?” And the answer is:
Calvin Klein: showed 1 look with an ethnic model out of 35 he sent down his runway.
Donna Karan: showed 3 looks with ethnic models out of 45 she sent down her runway. . . .
Now they clamor for our African-American First Lady, who one month ago wouldn’t have seen anyone who remotely looked like her on their own runways, to wear their clothes because “the kind of worldwide attention Obama and her labels are getting can boost an entire corporate psyche from designer to ground floor. It can boost sales as well.” Well, hiring ethnic models could boost their professional psyches - and boost rent payments, as well.
If you think this whole issue of Flotus’ frocks is overblown, Dmitcha said she understands. “I do!”
But if you think the extraordinary attention paid to the looks, grace and style of our country’s first African-American First Lady truly will not have enormous societal and international repercussions, and for generations to come, you are incorrect.
It mattered to Oprah when the Supremes showed up on Ed Sullivan. It mattered to me when Beverly Johnson showed up on the cover of Vogue. It mattered to the girls in my teen programs when they saw my insanely airbrushed face on a city bus. And it matters to people all over the world - not just young Black girls, but everyone who ever will interact with a Black woman - that Mrs. Obama has become the leading icon of womanhood that our country now exports. It matters. And it may actually change these darn runways and magazines at last, after decades of resistance, so that all of our kids will see a more diverse image of beauty, not just for their own self-esteem, but in the face of a woman they may one day hire, work with, work for, befriend or love.
Zora at We Are Respectable Negroes agrees the problem is beyond fashion. The problem is that Michelle doesn’t — won’t — conform to any of the predefined stereotypes available to her: she’s not a “mammy” nor a “good, middle class Negress.”

She’s statuesque, confident, self-defined, beautiful and black. Pobrecita. What an unfortunate combination of qualities for Michelle Obama to carry, for they seem to stand in the way of the mainstream’s ability to feel completely comfortable with her as America’s first lady. Folks are still struggling to understand her (and to define her) because she is so unlike any other Black woman on the national and international stage. One “tired” and superficial way of managing this is by focusing on her appearance.
If Michelle were overweight and outwardly insecure about her Negritude (ala Oprah Winfrey), America would likely embrace her more affectionately as our own. She would be heralded as our national Mammy. Yes, she would still get some digs; but the scrutiny of her appearance wouldn’t be nearly as great. We’ve seen mammies before and we are comfortable with them. Instead, we don’t quite know what to do with Michelle Obama. The problem is that she does not confirm the WASP woman as an ideal — neither by fitting into the stereotype of the loud, overweight black woman nor by being the good, middle-class Negress who conforms to the norms of white women.
The issue with Michelle Obama is that she is not only comfortable with her body, but she also seems to like it. Michelle dresses to accentuate a body that she is obviously proud of. Her clothing is cut to show off toned arms, shapely legs and womanly hips. She wears bold colors that complement her dark skin and make her stand out in a crowd. She favors designers who are American but who are not necessarily designing for a white elite. From the beginning, it has been clear that Michelle Obama asks herself two questions when she gets dressed: What do I like? and What looks good on me?. . . .
The focus on Michelle Obama’s appearance is a last ditch effort on the part of some to assert power over her, to sum up her worthiness on the basis of her looks. It is taboo to openly talk about her race, so they resort to focusing on the loud colors, the “big Butt,” the “massive arms,” etc. Give it up folks! It’s not working. Michelle Obama and millions of other black women around the world could give a damn about what you think.

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

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Anybody else think it's ridiculous that her wardrobe is getting more press than Obama. I have no idea why he was in London, but I know she wore a sweater to meet the queen?
Anybody else think it's ridiculous that her wardrobe is getting more press than Obama. I have no idea why he was in London, but I know she wore a sweater to meet the queen?
Originally Posted by cyndi
I completely agree. I'm already really sick of it.

I knew why the Obamas were there, but I do think the on and on and on about her clothes is kind of tiring.

How I feel about it: "She dresses well. Move on with life."

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

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There was a really good editorial article in my university's paper with the title "Women in Politics Should Be Praised or Criticized for More than their Fashion Choices"

The first lady can be a role model for women in America. I agree that she should dress herself appropriately to the job she has. However, I think that the amount of press it's gotten is significantly out of proportion. I don't mind when media outlets geared toward fashion and appearances comment on her wardrobe. I do mind, however, when I turn on a major news network or pick up a major paper or even just check google news and commentary on her fashion abounds. The first lady has a real and serious job to fulfill. I wish the major news outlets would get past her wardrobe and talk about what she's actually doing in her job. Like, there were pictures of what she wore to the groundbreaking of the white house veggie garden. The groundbreaking got way less attention than the outfit. We know what she wore when meeting important world leaders and diplomats, but not what actually happened at the meetings. I don't like that one bit. It all seems a bit shallow

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The focus on her fashion choices surprised me at the inauguration, but I'm used to it now, and am enjoying seeing what an intelligent, beautiful, tall, and progressive first lady wears. I hope she feels, "What a hoot!"
Michelle is a phenomenal woman. I hope we will see more stories by journalists about her work in the future. However, we live in an exceedingly shallow culture so I'm not going to hold my breath.

ETA not that I'm not interested like everyone in what she's wearing... I'm just saying that in a society where money is the penultimate goal, selling is number one. If a media outlet could make heaps of money on Michelle's thoughts we'd have journalists telling those stories. For now we have journalists being laid off and AP press releases of Michelle's clothes "reported" ad nauseum.
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Last edited by eche428; 04-09-2009 at 08:34 AM.

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