In her memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama gave readers a peek into how her White House style was one the world has ever seen.
Michelle revealed an excerpt from her book with Elle where she spoke on her style strategy as the first lady, touching on the time of her husband’s campaign and every style choice in between.
She quickly realized how people focused more on what she wore than what she had to say.
In one incident, Michelle wrote:
“In London, I’d stepped offstage after having been moved to tears while speaking to the girls at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, only to learn that the first question directed to one of my staffers by a reporter had been “Who made her dress?”
Michelle shared how while this behavior did make her upset, she attempted to “re-frame it as an opportunity to learn, to use what power I could find inside a situation I’d never have chosen for myself.”
And when it came to her White House style strategy, she wrote:
“I paid for all my own clothes and accessories—with the exception of some items like the couture-level gowns I wore to formal events, which were lent to me by the designers and would later be donated to the National Archives, thus adhering to White House ethics guidelines. When it came to my choices, I tried to be somewhat unpredictable, to prevent anyone from ascribing any sort of message to what I wore. It was a thin line to walk. I was supposed to stand out without overshadowing others, to blend in but not fade away.”
“As a black woman, too, I knew I’d be criticized if I was perceived as being showy and high-end, and I’d also be criticized if I was too casual. So I mixed it up. I’d match a Michael Kors skirt with a T-shirt from Gap. I wore something from Target one day and Diane von Furstenberg the next. I wanted to draw attention to and celebrate American designers, especially those who were less established, even if it sometimes frustrated the old guard, including Oscar de la Renta, who was reportedly displeased that I wasn’t wearing his creations. For me, my choices were simply a way to use my curious relationship with the public gaze to boost a diverse set of up-and-comers.” she wrote.
She credits her style to Meredith Koop, her stylist whom she came across at a boutique in Chicago during Obama’s campaign and later convinced her to move to Washington and work for her as a personal aide and stylist when her husband was elected president.
Both Michelle and Koop were conscious about their choices when it came to wardrobe.
“In my dressing room, I’d put on a new dress and then squat, lunge, and pinwheel my arms, just to be sure I could move. Anything too restrictive, I put back on the rack. When I traveled, I brought backup outfits, anticipating shifts in weather and schedule, not to mention nightmare scenarios involving spilled wine or broken zippers. I learned, too, that it was important to always, no matter what, pack a dress suitable for a funeral, because Barack sometimes got called with little notice to be there as soldiers, senators, and world leaders were laid to rest,” Michelle wrote.
Michelle also thanked her hairdresser, Johnny Wright along with makeup artist, Carl Ray. She shared how “the trifecta” gave her the confidence to step out into the public eye without fear. In addition, Michelle also revealed what she learned during her time as first lady.
“Today, virtually every woman in public life—politicians, celebrities, you name it—has some version of Meredith, Johnny, and Carl. It’s all but a requirement, a built-in fee for our societal double standard.”
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