FLOTUS’ casual glamour
How Michelle Obama turned casual into couture
When Michelle Obama leaves the White House for the last time on Jan. 20, her fashion legacy is completely assured. We’re talking carved in Mount Rushmore granite, shined up with shea butter leg grease and co-signed by #BlackGirlMagic. If God has been collecting style receipts for the past eight years — and you know he has been — Obama is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In the future, our favorite style memories may be Obama’s glamorpuss state dinner and inauguration gala gowns that shaped her image as a woman who was quick to tell middle age to hurry up with her cocktail.
But the influence of the gowns pale in comparison to the first lady’s catalog of daywear. Consider that she was photographed nearly every day for 96 months, and you get an idea of how daunting it must have been to create a wardrobe that was both appropriate and authentic. There are thousands of stylish outfits in this category, some one-offs and many repeats. Formal wear may be a consensus-by-committee affair, but private clothes worn to public events shine a klieg light on the wearer’s inner dialogue.
The pace of the East Wing engagement was relentless, but Obama perfected the tricky job of being respectful of her duties as first lady and channeling her version of modern black womanhood. She embraced emerging fashion designers, experimented with color and swung for the fashion fences in an authentic way that no other first lady has ever attempted. The fit of her clothing started out shaky in the early years, but hit its perfect stride around 2011. Dresses and skirts found their perfect length just below the knee, jewelry became less showy and the hair started doing magical, fairy-tale things that wrote their own headlines.
There was also a sly bit of sparkle behind her code-switching alertness. I like to think that All Day Michelle and after-hours Mrs. Obama could and would throw down if her Secret Service deal was too slow to respond to a threat. This is my bit of personal fantasy, but I can clearly see her stepping out of the silver Jimmy Choos, taking off the cashmere cardigan, holding her diamond earrings in her perfectly manicured hand if something felt like it might pop off. You may have started the beef, but Obama has your back. She was there for us because she was us.
The first lady was an elegant nighttime star, but her best daytime looks channeled strength, softness, a polished professionalism, steam-cleaned preparedness, international cool and sexy grown-up adulthood. You knew her from somewhere. She wore the same clothes as a black mom at the Jack and Jill teen dance or your favorite line sister who sends you home with a plate of food. Auntie Michelle sported a hoodie on the way to SoulCycle class and wrapped her beautiful brown arms around excited strangers and old friends. For eight glorious years, Obama was the kitten-heeled sun in our messy American sky. Sail on, girl. You will not be forgotten.