OK, it’s got to be done. Michelle Obama. Yes or no? Did she work it or was yesterday a monumental fashion nightmare from which it will take four years of hard work by Barack to recover?
Well, first things first. There were no major screw-ups. There are some who might say that the incoming First Lady could wear a bin-liner to an inauguration and it wouldn’t have any particular effect on world peace, or climate change, or the looming depression, but they are, of course wrong.
If the new First Lady were to appear in a bin liner it would send a Message. It would be interpreted, in the American media and beyond, as a big two-fingered salute to the world, her husband’s new office, the million people who took the trouble to show up to watch. It would suggest that the First Couple weren’t taking things seriously. It would be a Big Deal, and not in a good way. Plus, she might catch a cold and a wife with the flu would distract the new President from his inaugural duties.
So it matters. And no, there weren’t any major screw-ups. Let us look at the dress and coat ensemble on Capitol Hill. It wasn’t too expensive (fat-cat, banker, I-knew-people-at-Lehmans connotations) or too cheap (see bin-liner remarks above). It wasn’t too red or blue, guaranteed to upset half the population who care about political colour connotations. It wasn’t too short (tarty) or long (inappropriate). It didn’t invite wardrobe malfunctions. It didn’t make her noticeably shiver. It could be seen from the cheap seats. It passed.
Beyond that, everything else is just minor fashion cavilling. But then, that is what we do, and there is a lot else.
The colour has aroused some controversy, but it shouldn’t. It was different, original, unexpected. It showed up. It suited Michelle, and it wouldn’t have suited many women. Perfect. Well done, First Lady. Tick in the box. Choice of designer: inspired. American (patriotic), fashion forward (exciting, and every commenting fashionista can hug herself that she’d heard of Isabel Toledo when 99% of the viewing public hadn’t).
Accessories: sheer genius. JC Crew, accessible gloves in an interesting colour to contrast nicely with the Lincoln Bible in the photos. And almost-matching Jimmy Choos. No right-minded woman (or fashion-conscious man) is going to begrudge a woman her Jimmies, even if the colour is, frankly, weird. She thought about them. She loves them. All power to her.
Then we come to choice of fabric, fit and detailing. And we throw up our hands and wail. What was with the chiffon cardi-thingy AND the diamante neck thingy AND the bow thingy AND the scarf effect? Or was it an actual scarf? I was never sure. Too much going on, Michelle. Think Jackie. Think Carla Bruni. Think your own styling of your two impeccably dressed daughters. Colour blocks. Simplicity. Brave and hopeful, yet modest. Stand-out perfection. Imagine you’re styling Malia and then do you.
By the evening, we’d had time to recover from all the lemongrass and frou-frous and we were ready for Round Two. And once again, Michelle proved that she is totally astute when it comes to the choice of designer (Jason Wu, young, relatively unknown, impeccable fashion credentials among the cognoscenti – she’s just given him a million dollars’ worth of marketing and he’ll be grateful for the rest of his life). Also, she has great upper arms, which are the body part of the moment. See Kate Winslet at any recent award ceremony/premiere and most other girls at the Golden Globes.
Once again, colour was OK. Not earth-shattering, a bit safe, but it looked good beside Barack’s white-tie ensemble. It will age well. The one-shoulder style will date her, but then, she probably won’t mind being dated to January 2009. It will be the best month of her life.
Then we come to style. Michelle, you are a tall, graceful woman, and you need a tall, graceful dress. One that will look good in sneaked camera-phone photographs that will be embedded in the internet for the rest of your life. Not one that’s embellished with net and bits and pieces we can’t identify but that, pixellated, give the impression that you were pelted with cotton-wool balls before your appearance at the Neighbourhood Ball.
Enough with the frou-frous. I bet they looked great from two feet away, but they were just messy to the rest of us. Where was your waist? Again – what would you have put Malia in? Nothing so little-girlish, I’m sure. And your hair. Jill Biden’s blonde locks were styled to perfection, but yours looked like you’d just about dragged a comb through it in the limo. Get a proper hairdresser, woman. You deserve it. We deserve it.
However, you got three things right. Your husband plainly adored you in your yellow/white ensemble. And, partly thanks to you, he happened to be President at the time, and The Most Popular Man In The World. And you looked better than Beyoncé (in her verging-on-hideous silver shiny shiny satin sheath thingy with diamante … oh no I can’t bear to go on). And not many women can say that.
You have four years to get it very, very right. You’ve shown you’re experimental, confident and a brilliant stylist of under-twelve-year-olds. You have an interesting eye for colour, you’re attractive and you look after your body. You’re aware of the effect you’ll have on the designers you choose and you’ll become a fairy-godmother of fashion to the emerging talent in your great country. We stand here, hopeful, waiting for you to guide us forward towards a better future. Michelle Obama, we salute you. And dig the cute husband. Go, girl.