At the historic inauguration on Tuesday, all eyes were on Mrs. Obama’s choice of dresses for the occasion. As everyone is weighing in on her choices, I have to join the crowd. I was especially disappointed in her inaugural ensemble . Although I thought the style was good for her, the mustard yellow color was very unflattering. The ornate brocade, in my estimation, did not support Mrs. Obama’s strong, athletic, natural beauty. Likewise, with the evening dress she chose for the balls. The one shoulder design of the dress was good but I would have preferred seeing it in a rich satin with accents of crystals. This would have given her an understated elegance. The gown, covered with frills, would have worked better for a very feminine, romantic wearer.
The media has been quick to compare this youthful first lady with Jacqueline Kennedy, who was only 31 years old when her husband became president. This seems to me an unfair comparison, as Jackie is still known throughout the world as a fashion icon. It would be nearly impossible to match her style and, it certainly didn’t hurt that she and her mother-in-law habitually shopped in Paris and spent some $30,000 a year. That is not pocket change when you calculate the value in 1950’s dollars!
Jackie had an incredible sense of which styles looked best on her. She did not give her designer a free reign on what they made for her. In fact, she became the target of criticism for not choosing American designers so she selected Oleg Cassini. He was a surprising choice as there were other more highly acclaimed designers. As it was later discovered, Jackie had cleverly selected a designer whose ego was not so large that he refused to take direction from her. She simply got advance information of French designers new lines and had Cassini replicate them! I just picked up a book (on the close-out table) picturing some of her wardrobe from the presidential years. The structured, simple elegance of her clothes from suits to evening gowns, all perfectly complimented her skeletal bone structure and quiet elegance.
I applaud Mrs. Obama for deliberately selected young, emerging designers with a wide variety of backgrounds. Many are immigrants. Not only is she giving them a little push to get national recognition, she is deliberately spotlighting the possibility of achieving the American Dream.
My hope is that she will become more involved in choosing what really fits her “signature style” and not defer to the designer’s concept of what will get his/her name in the limelight. I think Princess Diana fell into that trap and never recognized her best style, thus was often a fashion victim at the hands of designers. It will be fun fashion watching Michelle Obama grow in her style sense. She comes across as a “take charge” kind of lady so I fully expect that she will take charge of her fashion as well and we will see her emerge as a new fashion icon – not with the precision of Jackie nor in the frequent mistakes of Princess Di but with a fresh, believable style of the “girl next door” turned First Lady.