A New First Lady, a New Style

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Camelot once ruled the Washington fashion scene, but the times they have changed.

While Jackie Kennedy wowed the throng in lavish couture gowns (such as the one depicted in the figurine above) and the signature Cassini pillbox hat, Michelle Obama will most likely not be following suit, even on Jan. 20th, Inauguration Day.

More the well put-together working mom than DAR dilettante, she opted for slim and tailored silhouettes on the campaign trail, wearing affordable J. Crew on talk shows and a lean, coral Maria Pinto sheath to visit the Bush White House. Even her red and black Narcisco Rodriguez dress (which got mixed reviews) was bold without being brazen. Like the rest of us, Michelle can have fun without breaking the bank. Hilary had fun, too, but her taste level was highly questionable, and Laura Bush just aged herself by playing it way too safe.

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But like Hilary, Obama is a loyalist when it comes to buying American and supporting local designers (Pinto is from Chicago). She is said to be extremely sensitive to dressing in a way deemed suitable for the times. As historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony explained it to McClatchy News, first ladies have made statements about themselves and the times they live in throughout history, especially in the post-World War II era. “They are symbols of our country,” he says. “They reflect around the world an image of of our country.”

One such reflection is visible to Brendan Hurley, vice president of marketing for Goodwill stores. He told the Washington Times that thrift-shop merchants report far more customers are hunting for formal wear among the Goodwill’s vintage collection. He says the stores are “a great place to find very inexpensive yet beautiful vintage and contemporary high-end fashions for the inaugural festivities.”(That’s what we’ve been saying.)

Of course another reflection is our dash to go green, but it’s doubtful Obama will consider wearing a recycled gown such as the juicy number Nina Valenti produced for Soyeon Lee at Carnegie Hall…one composed of 6,000 misprinted drink pouches. Perhaps that will have to wait.


Meantime, the first lady in waiting has been reviewing various sketches by top designers (such as Mizrahi, below) which were featured in a Womens Wear Daily piece on What Should Obama wear. The article, written in December, opens with the question: “Who says these are bleak times?” It goes on to say how excited American designers are about this “big catch” and many cannot wait to dress the statuesque Michelle. They include Diane Von Fursterberg and Betsey Johnson (bottom) who might have some interesting gowns but the renderings of Michelle are far from flattering.



I think the designer that captures her best would have to be Lagerfeld (below), who provides a hybrid of Jackie and Hillary in a day and night look for the tailored and sophisticated Michelle. The gown and suit might smack of Chanel but I’ve found similar statements at Nordstrom Rack and even among the knitwear at J. Crew. And if I were lucky enough to attend the highly coveted inaugural ball, that’s exactly where I would be looking for a treasure.


Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.