Every four years a few politicians run for the opportunity to become the next President of the United States. In 2008, history was made when Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. Almost eight years later, he is still in office and has become a commonly talked about figure in popular culture. To say America, and various countries around the world are smitten with President Obama and his family would be an understatement. While President Obama remains in the spotlight, his wife Michelle Obama has become a fashion icon and extremely influential First Lady. For those of you who are familiar with Michelle Obama, you would know that she is an accomplished woman and successful in many ways, however I would like to argue that the First Lady’s style has become a representation of what the ideal first lady should encompass.
You might asking yourself what does the word representation have to do with style choices and an individual such as Michelle Obama? Representation is the act of speaking on behalf of someone or something. One can easily examine this definition of representation in fashion by analyzing the style of the First Lady Michelle Obama, that have epitomized the traits all first ladies should encompass.
The sketch located below was drawn and designed by fashion designer Jason Wu. After designing Michelle Obama’s inaugural dress, Wu’s clientel and popularity skyrocketed. The dress in this sketch represents high-fashion and isn’t your run of the mill dress you can get from any store. As First Lady, Michelle Obama has come a long way. Once known for her professional and academic accomplishments, she is also a representation of the ideal First Lady Americans want to continue seeing in the White House. As Michelle Obama’s style has evolved over the past five years, her taste has changed and can be seen in the images included in this post. According to Georg Simmel, “Naturally the lower classes look and strive towards the upper, and they encounter the least resistance in those fields which are subject to the whims of fashion” (Simmel, 545). Michelle Obama’s tendency to wear high-fashion clothing pieces that connote elegance represents her social status. Because she is such a prominent public figure, her style is extremely influential and desired by lower class individuals that want to feel like they too, can become a representation of the “ideal first lady”.
In this image taken from a talk show appearance, Michelle’s outfit is representative of what some might consider middle class fashion. She is wearing J-Crew clothing, which some middle class citizens would consider affordable clothes. By wearing this outfit for this specific occassions where millions of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds are watching her, Michelle Obama’s outfit is telling the public that they can dress like her and therefore be a little more like her and possibly First Lady one day.
The dress Michelle Obama is wearing in the image above represents a more conservative, buttoned-up First Lady who is classy and stylish. Instead of wearing a simple black dress Michelle chose to wear a dress with texture, making it stylish and appropriate. According to Georg Simmel, “Fashion is a form of imitation and so of social equalization…the elite imitates fashion and when the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate the external distinctions of class, abandons it for a newer mode…a process that quickens with the increase of wealth” (Simmel, 543). As first lady, Michelle Obama’s style has shifted from low-fashion and high-fashion. The image below is an example how Michelle Obama has become a representation for the ideal first lady in her ability to find a balance between the “conservative” First Lady and “fashion savvy” First Lady. Her outfit encompasses both characteristics; therefore it makes her representative of a fashionable first lady.
This silver gown is a more recent image of First Lady Michelle Obama. I chose to include this image because of the transformation in her appearance. This gown coupled with her tight curls make Michelle look stylish head-to-toe. Once again you can see that they First Lady is fond of dresses that show off her arms. Some people have criticized that a sleeveless dress is less casual than a dress with sleeves. I disagree with this opinion. According to Dant, “The engagement of the wearer and the garment such that they become part of each other, also gives the clothes meaning” (Dant, 383). Although Dant uses jeans as his example of a garment that “has a rigid form as fashion but become[s] a vehicle for individual identity through [its] material malleability” (Dant, 383).
As First Lady, Michelle has become known for wearing sleeveless dresses. Unlike First Ladies before her, she has become the representation of a First Lady who is well rounded and daring in her fashion choice. Her outfits have the ability to represent middle class, low class, and high class fashions. As you can see in the image below, our First Lady knows how to keep up with the trends and hardly disappoints when she is set to appear on a popular talk show. Her black romper and pointed heels may not have been the “go-to” outfit for First Ladies before her; as a result this outfit exemplifies how Michelle Obama has become a representation of the modern First Lady. The public doesn’t need to know her personally, to know that she has style and a personality.
Another example of Michelle Obama’s representation as a style icon and fashionista can be seen in the image below. This outfit is far from boring. From the colors, studddd belt, and magenta gloves we can see that our First Lady has style and this makes her similar to a model in the sense that “models lend their image to sell products, incorporating their likeness into the image of a brand” (Wissinger, 274). Michelle Obama does this in the image below. She is pictured with President Barack Obama and her two daughters. Her dress is more conservative and simplistic. It is connoting that she is the First Lady of the United States of America and that she is the ideal representation of a First Lady.
Dant, Tim. “Consuming or Living With Things?”
Simmel, Georg. “Fashion.” The American Journal of Sociology 62.6 (1957): 541-548. Print
Wissinger, Elizabeth. “Modeling Consumption: Fashion Modeling Work in Contemporary Society”. Journal of Consumer Culture 9.2 (2009): 273-96. Web.