The world’s eyes may be on U.S. President Barack Obama, but the eyes of the world of fashion are all tuned to his lovely wife Michelle. Poised, intelligent, down-to-earth Michelle has stepped into the role of First Lady with tremendous grace, all while being a wonderful and attentive mother to her two young daughters. Mrs. Obama has dazzled the world with her easy charm and impeccable style.
Michelle Obama doesn’t seem like a logical choice for a style translation (like, say, Rachel Bilson) because, well, at nearly the same height as her husband, there aren’t many Asian women with figures like hers. However, I think Michelle’s style appeal goes much deeper than that.
I’ve long maintained that Michelle Obama isn’t a style icon in the same way as a Jackie Kennedy or a Princess Diana. Jackie and Diana were fashion trail blazers, they made unique, sometimes risky, choices and really changed the way people dressed for their times. Michelle is different. She hasn’t shaken the fashion world and changed its landscape; she’s simply been impeccably well-dressed.
I think that Michelle Obama took her immense intelligence, the same one that made her an Ivy League-educated lawyer, and applied it to fashion. She knows exactly what she likes and exactly what flatters her. Her choices aren’t that of a fashion guru, but rather of a very smart woman who knows how to look good. And she does it on a relatively normal budget, famously wearing a lot of accessible brands like The Gap and J. Crew. That is why we can all learn from her.
Michelle has a formula for every fashion situation she’s in. Then she keeps from looking mundane by varying colors, textures, and accessories. Let’s take a look!
Scenario 1: Casual Lady
Whether she’s taking her daughters to school (accompanied by the secret service of course) or touring the Eiffel Tower or planting in her vegetable garden at the White House, Mrs. Obama always looks presentable. And it’s no wonder why, as a public figure she understands that she’s always under scrutiny. Now, the rest of us don’t necessarily need to always operate under those assumptions, but it never hurts to look well put together.
Michelle stays comfortable and ladylike by pairing nicely tailored pants with structured tops. Tailored pants does not mean suit pants, but rather pants that have structure and fit well. For example, Michelle wears jeans and khakis all the time, but they’re always perfectly fitted and the absolute perfect length for her. If you think that’s because she has the body to find pants easily, think again! She’s around 6 ft tall and by no means possessing a supermodel’s figure. Her pants don’t fit because she’s lucky, they fit because she gets them tailored!
Michelle Obama likes to wear little jackets or her signature fitted cardigans over simple tees or comfortable feminine blouses to give her upper body structure and shape. To add interest she might wear a scarf, a sparkly brooch, or simply bright colors! She knows how to stand out in a good way.
To channel this style first make sure the pants you have already fit well. If they don’t, take them to the tailor! And remember, one pair of well-fitting jeans are worth five pairs of ill-fitting ones. Make an investment of it and purchase a pair of high quality jeans, like J. Brand or my personal favorite Adriano Goldschmied, and spend the money to get them tailored. You won’t regret it. Also, remember that designer jeans don’t always have to come with a designer price tag. Stores like Anthropologie often have them on sale for a fraction of the original price and you can often find good deals on designer jeans at outlet stores like Nordstrom Rack or Neiman Marcus Last Call. Then try Obama favorites like The Gap or J. Crew for colorful cardigans, cute blouses, and shape-giving little jackets. Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and department stores like Macy’s would also have good options.
Finish the look with a pair of kitten heels in a bright matching color!
Scenario 2: A Lady’s Lady
Mrs. Obama has many occasions where she must look every inch the lady, from when she’s meeting the UK’s Prime Minister to when she’s descending Air Force One to when she’s on the cover of a national magazine. She’s put this look together so much she could probably do it in her sleep.
She always wears dresses or skirts in two figure-flattering cuts: the A-line or the pencil. And when I say pencil I’m not talking slutty secretary, but rather a classic, very straight, pencil skirt. On top, Obama keeps it consistent with pretty blouses, structured jackets, and her signature colorful cardigans. For chillier days Michelle will often switch out her cardigan or little jacket for a long, knee-length coat. Fun tip: accentuate your waist and create an hour-glass figure by following Michelle Obama’s lead with a waist belt!
To channel this look, try the same stores as her first look or look into some of Obama’s favorite designers: Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Ralph Lauren, Peter Som, and Michael Kors. Complete this look with the same accessories as before, and kitten heels. My favorite Michelle Obama accessories are always her brooches. To find interesting brooches of your own look at vintage stores, specialized designers like Tom Binns, and your mothers/grandmother’s jewelry boxes! Chances are, they still have a few from when brooches were the must-have lady like accessory!
Scenario 3: Elegant Lady
As First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has had more occasion than most of us to get full-out dressed up. But she’s done it so well that, were an occasion to arise, I would channel her black tie style in a heartbeat. Why? Because she’s not a model or an actress or a celebrity. She’s a normal, albeit incredibly talented and intelligent, woman whose husband happens to have one of the most high-profile jobs in the world. She has a real woman’s body, and she’s learned to dress that body well.
Michele Obama always pics gowns with fitted, interesting tops and flowing skirts that begin at the lower part of her waist. This style accentuates her hourglass shape and elongates her legs. She makes sure that the skirt is flowy but not too poofy, so she doesn’t seem too large or too much like a little girl dressed up like a princess on Halloween. Michelle also likes to highlight her nicely toned arms by wearing short-sleeved or sleeveless gowns.
Look for dresses in this shape at department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, or Saks Fifth Avenue, and at local boutiques. Make sure to try on your gowns with the exact type of underwear you would wear on the day of your event. Oftentimes, you might need specialized under clothes, like a shift with a built-in bra, to look your best in evening clothes. If you love a gown but the fit is slightly off, see if you can alter the gown without damaging it. Usually this isn’t a problem, but sometimes dresses made of very delicate materials or that have a lot of hand-made detail are hard to alter.
Finally, accessorize with jewels, a glossy up-do, and (if you really want to be glamourous) gloves!
Michelle Obama is truly a lady, one that I’m proud to call my First Lady. She’s an admirable woman with admirable style. Anyone can channel her looks with great success because she takes classic, tried-and-true outfits and makes them unique and personal by adding accessories and color!