mrs. o’s style

March 18, 2011

finally, a woman in the white house with some style! other than jackie o, americans have a pretty pathetic roster of fashionable first ladies. not that the president’s wife should only be concerned with what she looks like…but michelle’s bold sense of style has seriously changed the reputation of the first lady without sacrificing her dedication to the american public.

kate betts, former editor of bazaar and current editor of time style and design, gave a lecture at the de young museum on saturday about the sartorial choices of first ladies icons and how they’ve affected american women. betts spoke in promotion of her book, Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, a chronicle of mrs. obama’s colorful, groundbreaking fashion history. the crux of the lecture (and probably the book, which i haven’t read yet) is that the first ladies historically  fall into two categories, style & substance. the “stylish” hostess contingent included flapper grace coolidge, classic jackie o, and red red nancy reagan, while the “substantive” category concentrated on political and social agendas, rather than their outfits- think eleanor roosevelt, roslyn carter, and hilary clinton’s shantung pantsuits. but there has never been a first lady who has managed to conquer both….

until now! what michelle obama has done, according to betts, is combine these two historically divergent paths into an image of  an accessible, optimistic, and successful woman with an amazing closet. she has differentiated herself from the stodgy, conservative DC power-suited woman and uses her colorful and fashion-forward wardrobe to attract attention, express herself, and prove her power.

i see a definite correlation between her style and the recent democratization of fashion via the internet. the explosion of style blogs, online  fashion communities, internet shopping, and obsession with street style have turned everyday american women into style icons. michelle embodies that change in our fashion psyche. even she shops at h&m, j. crew, and talbots; even she mixes prints and dons statement jewelry ; even she can wear a neon cardigan to a business meeting. michelle represents a new generation of women unafraid of standing out, being different, and expressing themselves. without actually saying anything, she is epitomizing this new wave of fashion: that individuality and personal style is infinitely more powerful than any boring old pants-suit and strand of pearls.

all images are from the whitehouse flickr shot by presidential photographer, pete souza. to track michelle’s daily wardrobe, check out the  awesome all-obama-all-the-time style blog, mrs. o!

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