First Lady's Passion for Fashion Earns Kudos, Makes Unknown Designers Overnight Celebs

Michelle Obama: Fashion Icon?

First Lady Michelle Obama came to Washington a year ago with an agenda: settle her family into a new life in the White House, focus attention on the challenges of the work- and family-life balance and reach out to military families.

Mission accomplished.

But it's her wardrobe choices that seem at times to draw the most attention and media coverage. From belted cardigans to sleeveless sheath dresses and bold-statement jewelry, Obama's style has been celebrated for its innovation and reflecting her age, 46, and her role as a working mother; functional yet fashionable, classic yet affordable.

The first lady's style is "incredibly modern," Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan said.

"She looks like someone, a very stylish person that you would meet, you know, in a business setting, in a restaurant, just on the street," said Givhan, author of the book "Michelle: Her First Year as First Lady."

"She looks like someone that you would know as opposed to someone who looks like there's a wax statue of her somewhere."

Obama was celebrated last month by Glamour magazine as one of its Women of the Year and graced the fashion magazine's cover, the first time a first lady had been featured.

Although she was honored for her work on issues such as nutrition and health, perhaps the most significant detail, from a fashion perspective, was that her wardrobe choice for the cover shoot came straight from her own closet.

Yes, the first lady, who could have had her pick of designers, chose to wear her own red cocktail dress and large bold necklace.

Glamour's newsstand sales for the issue increased 11 percent from December 2008 sales.

Obama's image has been splashed across the covers of several other national magazines, including Vogue, O and Essence. She was named to Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed List and was honored with a special tribute award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The first lady even earned a spot on US Weekly's Best Dressed in 2009 list, keeping company with Hollywood stars such as Angelina Jolie and Blake Lively of "Gossip Girl."

There's little question that the first lady has quickly become a fashion tour de force and her stamp of approval on a designer or brand may be just the boost they need to spur sales and gain media attention in tough economic times.

When she and the president met British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife at their London residence, Michelle Obama wore a sparkling, cardigan J. Crew sweater -- a $298 item called the Crystal constellation cardigan -- and the item sold out online within an hour.

The pencil skirt Obama paired with the sweater also was an instant hit with shoppers.

J. Crew's revenues increased 7 percent from February to October and store sales increased 11 percent from the same period in 2008.

While it's difficult to measure any Michelle Obama effect, analysts note that when the first lady wears a brand, there is a spike in media attention for the label that can only help spur sales.

Dissecting Michelle Obama's Signature Style

As for Michelle Obama's style, unique but consistent seem to be key themes.

She regularly sports bright-colored cardigan sweaters topped with wide belts, sometimes layered over a blouse or lighter sweater. She is modern yet feminine, pairing bold-patterned skirts with flats or low kitten heels.

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