IT HAS been 50 years since an American first lady has had such an impact on fashion in the way Michelle Obama has, with media around the world hailing her choices and designers’ careers launched. President Barack Obama’s wife cemented her reputation as an international style trendsetter with her choice of a Jason Wu red sleeveless gown at his second inaugural ball last week, and a striking business-style blue navy coat worn over a dress for the ceremonial daytime events.
But while the late Jacqueline Kennedy apparently preferred French fashion, Obama sticks to American designers.
South Africa sneaks a look-in from time to time with accessories – diamonds from De Beers adorned her wrist on the night of the ball at the Walter E Washington Convention Centre. Her winter wear has in the past included South African mohair, as her check coat from Thom Brown may also have last week.
Obama again chose Wu for the velvet and chiffon ball gown, which showed off her famously toned upper arms while draping softly over her lower body. The first time she wore his designs in 2009, it launched the young designer’s career from an unknown to a household name.
According to The Washington Post, she is now a bona fide fashion icon. In an image-conscious society, Obama also embodies the importance of honing a signature style and remaining true to it, said Mikki Taylor, editor-at-large of Essence Magazine and author of Commander-in-Chic: Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Her Style Like a First Lady.
"When you look at a red carpet you’re stargazing, but when you’re looking at Mrs Obama you’re taking notes,” Taylor says.
Part of her appeal is the ability to look comfortable in her clothes, yet stylish at the same time.
Obama’s style does not draw universal acclaim, however, with Oscar de la Renta once suggesting rather too publicly that she should not have worn a casual J Crew sweater to visit Buckingham Palace.
De la Renta is now the only major American designer whose clothes Obama has never worn.