American Woman: Mrs. Michelle Obama
On November 4th, no matter if you voted for the Crypt Keeper or the Beacon of Hope (we’re def not biased here on the Glamazons), you were a part of history in the making. At the mag, Ferocia and I spent all night recording each step of the election for our website and by 11pm, we were equally elated and exhausted. The screaming, crying, shouting, praise-song singing, toasting (Obama for your Mama punch!) and shooting (yes, if you live in Brooklyn, you heard gunshots all night) continued well into the morning hours; and the overwhelming sentiment of pride, unity, hope, inspiration and joy, stayed with us throughout the week. But perhaps one of my favorite upshots of the election is that Americans have to refer to a black woman as a “lady.” (Sidenote: And I can’t believe the first lady gets touch-ups the same way I do!) Lovelovelove it! What’s more? Michelle singlehandedly brought dressing like a lady back in style.
Not since JFK’s wife, the exquisite, ever elegant glamazon Jackie Onassis, has a first lady ushered such a distinct brand of trendy sophistication into the White House. Like Jackie, Michelle radiates an effortless and elegant glamour that will be imitated and adored by women the world over.
As articulated by Elie Tahari, one of several designers vying for the chance to dress Michelle for inauguration, “She will ignite the fashion industry. She is young, pretty, smart and well put together. These are a lot of great qualities.” Well put-together is an understatement. But part of Michelle’s appeal is that her style resonates with the everyday woman, unlike Laura Bush the Stepford wife and Cindy McCain (who scares me a little…I swear, if you looked into her eyes, you’d turn to stone.)
That’s why, unlike any First Lady before her, you’ll find Michelle in H&M dresses, White House/Black Market sheaths and J.Crew ensembles. A woman of the people, indeed.
Apparently, not everyone feels the same way. Take the picture below. After campaigning incessantly for her husband, and looking after those babies, Michelle takes a second to vote with…God forbid…her hair in a stiff ponytail—and apparently, her stomach was poking out in a few photographs taken from a less-than-flattering angle. My boss, editor and I got into an intense discussion about this.
I found the ponytail and even the tummy endearing. Finally, a human! While my co-workers were repulsed by her inability to stay camera-ready (“She’s the First Lady now,” their rationale went), I saw her “flaws” as proof of her everyday appeal. My stomach has been known to make an appearance after too many tacos, chips and guac and the stiff ponytail has been a long, if not welcome, acquaintance on those last couple of days before I can make it to the salon (Does anyone understand the physics behind that?! Why can’t it just lay down?). Seeing it on Michelle just further solidified her first-lady-next-door charm.
In our hurry to mold Michelle into the First Ladies we’ve become accustomed to seeing, we mustn’t forget that she’s not them. She’s not dressed impeccably in Oscar de La Renta suits, waving robotically and flashing a Botox-induced smile. She’s comfortable in her own look and her own skin. And isn’t that what we loved in the first place?
But at the same time, I do see their point. Moving into the White House will change Michelle (in the same way the pressure of the highest position in the land will change Barack), whether I want to admit it or not. Being photographed incessantly, scrutinized ruthlessly and pursued by every designer in the land has to upgrade even the most down-to-earth woman. Even though, in my opinion, Michelle is the embodiment of glam, what tips would you give her to transition her wardrobe from the campaign to the White House?
As a refresher, here are the key elements to Mrs. Obama’s enviable style, on and off the campaign trail.
Nothing says ladylike glamour like a string of pearls. I once was addicted to them and threw them over everything: dresses, white tanks and blazers, sheer blouses, crisp white shirts, everything. In a nod to old world, high society style, Michelle chooses a length that sits gracefully on her collarbone, highlighting her long neck and toned shoulders. The new school edge? Her pearls are always oversized. Fun, trendy and shows she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Aldo has the perfect necklace for $25 at Aldo stores. Very chic.
When it comes to accessories, Michelle believes less is more. Besides a brooch, string of pearls, studs and flats, she lets the dress make the statement. She’ll even look for floral embroidered necklines to adorn her dresses and skip jewelry altogether. But no matter which accessory she chooses, it always adds the perfect, subtle touch.
I need this striking brooch from J.Crew to get through the work day. It livens up any look and for $65, it looks super expensive. Love it!
Michelle masters the hourglass silhoutte by accentuating her curves and defining her waist. Though sheaths have built-in contouring (more on that later), Mrs. O has been known to throw a belt on—and with good reason. It camouflages your tummy, cinches your waist, emphasizes your curves, shall I go on?
And her belt choices always compliment the look (read: they’re fashionable, not just functional). Steer clear of large, heavy waist-cinchers; they make you look like you’re wearing a chastity belt, or worse, a wrestling champion belt. Def NOT glam.
The waist-defined shift is a 1960′s classic, a la Sophia Loren; and the perfect compliment to Michelle’s svelte, curvy figure. My advice to women everywhere? Get the look! The silhouette works for every shape and size, trust me on this one.
This dress is designed to make you look your best; the contouring hides the tummy and minimizes the waist. Mark my words: the shift is every smart working woman’s staple…and Michelle’s signature.
I am in love with J.Crew’s take on the perfect shift, the Flannel Kate Dress ($198, jcrew.com). And the color looked stunning against Mrs. O’s beautiful skin. Werk!
At 5’11, Michelle lets her endless legs and smart hemlines (always below the knee) do the elongating for her. For Mrs.O, comfort is key. Let’s not forget she spends her time either on the campaign trail or chasing after 11-year old Malia and 9-year old Sasha. Her running shoes of choice? Fun, fashionable flats.
Though she cites Cole Haan’s Air Camille ballet flat (with Nike Air technology!) as her fave, I’ll buy the Steve Madden flats for $70…on sale.
Cole Haan flats, $194, colehaan.com.
Steve Madden flats, $70, stevemadden.com.
THE GOOD MAN
Yeah, umm so if you’re anything like my girls and I, you’re looking for the next Barack. Their courtship proves that pure, unabashed love is a possible, and worthwhile, attainment for black couples. A good man with great family values, professional aspirations and white teeth? Yes we can! And another thing, as Barack transitions into the most demanding job in the country, he still finds time to take her out on a date! (You have my permission to point this out when your man’s giving you “I’m busy,” excuses as a way out of dinner and a movie.)
But before we start the “…but Barack does it,” comparisons, it pays to look at—and learn a thing or two—from the position Michelle plays in their relationship as well. My girl, Belle, captured the essence of Michelle’s role as wife perfectly on her blog, a belleinbrooklyn.blogspot.com, which is clearly my new addiction. Here’s a snippet:
There are tons of men practically salivating over Shelly Obama because it’s proof that Claire Huxtable exisits. But it’s not because she was once the breadwinner of the family, has a couple Ivy-league degrees, or even because she has a fatty. It’s because she’s a partner to Barry in every since of the word. She’s supportive, but she’ll get in his ass. She pushes him to be his best and she ain’t leaving him if he fails. She’ll beat someone’s ass over him. She’s got good sense and is raising the children right and holding down the fort while he hunts and gathers. She sacrifices for the betterment of THEM. She sees the vision. She’s smart as hell, yes, and that counts for a lot. But the reason Shelly’s the Barry-proclaimed “rock” of the Obama family (and the neo-goddess for Black men) is less about what she puts in the joint account, and much more about her personality and character. Got it?
Got it. Self-sufficent but supportive. Confident but endearingly humble. Tender but tough for him—and to him—when she needs to be. And the way he adores, respects and publicly praises her certainly has my attention.
I know, Oprah, don’t you just love them!
And speaking of attention, what’s with the “controversy” over her Narciso Rodriguez dress? I didn’t think the dress was horrible but can’t say that I enjoyed the cardigan pairing with such a brash, bold print. It wasn’t her classic, elegant style as we’ve come to know it, but I do congratulate her for taking risks—we like a little adventure on this blog. Sound off: did you love it or hate it?
She does no wrong in my eyes.
Cheers to our new First Lady (and President-elect of course)!!
Photos: Zimbio. NYMag.