Friday, November 7, 2008

Michelle Obama's threads

While the President-elect is organizing his staff and administration, and his choice of chief-of-staff has already been criticized by some, the First Lady-to-be is having her fashions scrutinized. Some people like her election-night appearance dress, others did not.

One article's headline: Michelle Obama's election outfit gets dressing down. Get this: there have even been polls about her dress.

In an online poll by USA Today, 65 percent of more than 10,000 readers believed the Harvard-educated corporate lawyer and future first lady "had an off day" and 35 percent said "She looks fantastic as always."

An online poll by People magazine mirrored those results, while a Los Angeles Times online poll found 45 percent hated the dress and 34 percent loved it.

"The normally impeccable Michelle O made a questionable choice for her husband's historic election night victory," wrote Lesley Scott, editor of fashion and lifestyle blog "It's less than flattering."

What amazes me more than that the poll was taken is that 10,000 people participated.

Now there is even a web site that is dedicated to taking "a regular look at what and who she's wearing" and encouraging enthusiasm for "the budding style icon, Mrs O."

Some people liked her dress.

Not everyone disliked Obama's choice, which was shown on the catwalk only two months ago and is not yet available in stores. New York magazine hailed Obama for being able to hold her own against France's first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel. "We have a feeling she'll continue to mix affordable pieces with designer pieces as First Lady, but this wardrobe choice proves this woman knows fashion and we have an exciting four years of political fashion ahead of us," the magazine said. "What will she choose for the inaugural ball? The suspense is so exciting! And you know what else is great about this? We don't have to envy France for Carla Bruni anymore!"

An article points out that the Obama family was color co-ordinated in its dress: A Role That Nicely Suits the Next First Lady. President-elect Barack Obama walked onto the outdoor stage wearing one of his favorite Hart Schaffner Marx suits (made in Illinois) in an inky shade of navy. He paired it with a crisp white shirt and a ruby red tie interrupted with thin, diagonal gray stripes. His suit was almost the same color as the dress worn by his younger daughter, Sasha. And his tie paired up nicely with the cherry red dress worn by his daughter Malia. Michelle Obama completed the picture by wearing a red and black dress by New York-based designer Narciso Rodriguez.

The Obama color coordination may have something to do with the ages of their girls, 7 and 10. At that age, children actually have a wardrobe and not just a closet filled with onesies. But they still are young enough to be dressed in the manner their parents deem appropriate.

But that kind of coordination also is a way of controlling the family image, of making sure that these four individuals are perceived as a seamless unit, a supportive clan. The color matching declares loudly: We are a family. We are in this together. And don't we take a nice picture?

Of all the members of the family, the eye lingers on Michelle Obama. As the next first lady, she will have no prescribed duties and responsibilities. Instead, she will step into the role of national symbol. She can support a cause and address certain issues. But the essence of a first lady's job is to cheerlead by her presence or to admonish by her absence. She is not required to look especially powerful or intellectual. She is our public face of graciousness, sophistication and nurture.

And, of course, we'd like her to look pretty.

Obama wore the dress with a waist-length black cardigan, which might have been wise on an autumn evening in Chicago. But it muddled the dress's dramatic silhouette and threw off the proportions and the sleek illusion created by the banding, the spraying and Rodriguez's expert cutting.

The runway version of the dress was sleeveless and with a lower cut neckline, details that made it sexier, more dramatic and somewhat dressier. So that cardigan spoke to decorum as much as it did warmth. Still, it was a fashion spoiler.

The pressure of the job!

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