Past Event

First ladies or first fashion icons? Everybody’s talking about Michelle Obama

Not since Jacqueline Kennedy turned ordinary Americans into designer aficionados has so much talk about what a first lady wears swirled around the fashion world. But now, with Michelle Obama on the world stage, the fashion press, couture designers, and people around the globe have zeroed in on her every wardrobe choice.

From her decision to wear a cardigan to meet Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace to some observing that she wore fake eyelashes during her visit to the home of the British Prime Minister, Obama was closely scrutinized over every outfit she selected during a recent trip to Europe. Big-name designers-such as Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, and Vera Wang-are dismissing the first lady’s style, although some suspect they’re miffed that she’s overlooking their design houses in favor of the lesser known high-end designers such as Thakoon, Jason Wu, and Isabel Toledo and the labels J. Crew and Gap.

Mrs. Obama herself said, "First and foremost, I wear what I love. That’s what women have to focus on: what makes them happy and what makes them feel comfortable and beautiful. If I can have any impact, I want women to feel good about themselves and have fun with fashion."

De la Renta complained to reporters, "American fashion right now is struggling. …I don’t object to the fact that Mrs. Obama is wearing J. Crew to whatever because the diversity of America is what makes this country great. But there are a lot of great designers out there. I think it’s wrong to go in one direction only."  On the other hand, designer Tommy Hilfiger weighed in, saying, "I’m happy that she’s wearing young designers and not only wearing [American] couture, which puts her more in touch with real people." Echoing that statement, Daily Kos blogger Tier1express wrote, "What she is doing, however, is scaring the bejeebus out of the $30k dress and $15K hobo bag crowd by showing that she can have endless style without paying their mind-numbing prices."

While the Obama fashion debate goes on, it’s clear the media are busy feeding the frenzy. New York Magazine has created online slideshow that shows every outfit Michelle has worn in public since the inauguration, and the blog Mrs. O is "dedicated to following the fashion of First Lady Michelle Obama."

Others are cheering her choices because, as Suzy Menkes of The New York Times writes, "she chose put an end to that most obnoxious of fashion non-statements: wife wear." Yet many are saying that too much attention is being paid to what Mrs. Obama wears and not enough to what she can accomplish as the first lady, as Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan says, "she represents a community larger than herself."

Is too much fuss being made over what Michelle Obama wears? What do you think might be the subtle messages being sent by so much attention being paid to Michelle Obama’s wardrobe? Should we consider the first lady as fashion icon? Do you think Mrs. Obama is being intentional by wearing cheaper labels such as Gap?  Should more coverage be given to how Michelle Obama can help improve the lives of Americans? What should the role of the first lady be? What do you want to know more about: what Michelle Obama wears or what she has accomplished?

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