FIFTY years ago, John F Kennedy proclaimed himself “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris”.
He who escorts Michelle Obama anywhere is similarly upstaged.
The First Lady stepped off Air Force One looking radiant in low-heeled tweed pumps, a black fitted blazer over a mid-length grey pencil dress overlaid with diamond-patterned lace and cinched at the waist with a narrow silver belt.
Ms Obama, who wore a Jason Wu Kelly green sheath dress with embroidered French knots for the White House St Patrick’s Day reception, gave a more subtle nod to the national colour today with an emerald belt- clasp. She secured her hair against the weather in a voluminous French twist and accessorised with small, white, diamond-drop earrings. As the weather improved, she changed into a light beige trench coat, gold beaded necklace and a scarlet floral-patterned dress with matching waistband and pumps.
Her clothes have been a major talking point since her husband sought his party’s nomination for presidency. The lines between US politics and entertainment are blurred so much so that clothing can effectively engage voters. Obama ran as the People’s President, just as likely to appear on the cover of celebrity gossip magazines as Newsweek. Michelle is the only First Lady to grace two Vogue covers, as much a style icon as she is a model mother, wife and career woman.
“You only need to remember last year’s American mid-term elections to understand how much of an asset Michelle Obama’s wardrobe can be for the president,” says Robb Young, author of Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion. “When Barack’s approval ratings were at ademoralising low figure of around 45%, Michelle’s approval ratings were 20 points higher at 65%, and virtually everywhere she accompanied him on the election trail, she helped spike support for candidates in the Democratic Party. Much of Michelle Obama’s popularity and power derives from her status as a style icon. Frankly, without Michelle’s sense of style, I’d be so bold to say that Barack’s party would have done worse at the polls last year than they did. I’m also sure her outfits will be an asset once again when Barack is up for re-election next year as well.”
Michelle’s style is often compared to Jacqueline Kennedy’s but she’s far more practical. She dons sportswear while working on her campaign against child obesity,! and started a trend for purple Converse plimsolls. She gardens on the White House South Lawn in leggings and boots.
She told US Vogue: “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.”
Yet she’s undeniably a trendsetter and, with her good looks, slender figure and much-admired toned arms, has designers clamouring to dress her. At 5’11”, she is also a model’s height.
Robb Young said: “Although there has been a bit of grumbling about the price tag of her mostly designer wardrobe, I think that the reasons that the press has been more muted about such criticism is because her choices have been so astute and politically correct in other ways. Many of the designers she wore early on were considered to be either underdogs in the fashion industry, progressive international ‘artists’ or cosmopolitan young Americans from a great diversity of ethnic and national backgrounds.”
She has also won the Obamas’ favour with fashion’s most powerful woman. “We always felt that Washington rather looked down on us or didn’t understand us or wasn’t quite ready for us, and now we have an administration that supports us,” American Vogue editor Anna Wintour said in March.
Her fashion is also indicative of a great political acumen. In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama writes: “If I ever had to run against her for public office, I know that she would beat me without much difficulty.”
Lucky for him, she is content to remain his best asset.
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