D.C. Atwitter Over Obamas' Audacity of Informality

Mrs. Obama goes sleeveless, and men in the Oval Office go jacketless.

ByABC News
February 25, 2009, 6:55 PM

Feb. 25, 2009— -- Call it the audacity of informality.

First, GOP firebrand and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich lamented the informal rhetoric and body language of President Barack Obama's address Tuesday in an equally informal Twitter message during the speech.

"Nobody messes with joe and the smiles and nancy handshake resembled a democratic pep rally not a state of the union," Gingrich typed in a capital-letter- and punctuation-free "tweet," apparently reacting to Obama's "Nobody messes with [Vice President] Joe" Biden reference, among other things.

"sophomoric and silly," Gingrich wrote.

Then came the tut-tutting from Democrats and Republicans alike over first lady Michelle Obama's sleeveless purple frock.

Hip 26-year-old designer Jason Wu, who fashioned FLOTUS' white, off-the-shoulder inaugural gown, called her "the ultimate muse." But some were murmuring that the first lady revealed not merely bare arms beneath the dome of the nation's shrine to democracy but an unseemly lack of reverence.

"It was an unusual choice," a Democratic Capitol Hill staffer confessed to a male reporter oblivious to the nuances of Capitol garb.

ABC News' Cokie Roberts, author of "Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation," said she fielded an e-mail from a staunch feminist fan of the first lady's who nevertheless added, "but enough with the sleeveless dresses."

"It does raise some hackles. I'm a little curious about it because it's cold in the House gallery," Roberts said. "I suppose that the sense of sleeveless dress being somewhat inappropriate comes from churches. ... There does seem to be some sense of decorum having to do with covering your shoulders."

During the election campaign, the Obamas' celebrated "no-drama" style became a visible asset for the once-working-class Chicago couple. Michelle Obama's J. Crew dress drew applause from an audience on "The View" enduring the closest thing to a depression since the Great Depression.

But in Washington, aptly pegged as a city of "northern charm and southern efficiency" by Mark Twain, breaking with the capital's stodgy sartorial traditions is enough to give the city's pleats-and-gold-buttoned-blazer-crowd the vapors.