FLOTUS StyleWatch or, How the Fashion Industry/Media Embarrasses Itself

I knew just by reading the headline to Jenna Sauer’s post, “It’s Time to Shut Up About Michelle’s Damn Dress!” that I was going to agree. And that, I do. I would only add one other point that has been nagging me about the recent torrent of op-eds, articles, and blog posts having to do with FLOTUS’ sartorial choices.

What Michelle Obama wears and how she wears it has been part of news cycles since the campaign. Certainly, this isn’t unusual. The public and press have always commented on the First Lady’s fashion choices and style. Her role as an icon of ideal American womanhood is so institutionalized that we even archive some of her clothes in the Smithsonian. But – even taking into account the flack that Mamie Eisenhower took for her bangs – I don’t remember any other First Lady having to endure as much scrutiny as Michelle Obama has. And it’s not just her clothes that’s being evaluated and assessed. It’s every part of her body:

  • arms (should she wear sleeveless dress/tops?)
  • legs (should she really be wearing shorts?)
  • eyebrows (should she soften the arch so she appears less angry?)
  • height (consider the countless words devoted to whether or not she should wear flats)
  • and the list goes on . . .

To be fair, I have to admit that I too participate in FLOTUS StyleWatch –  though marginally, (e.g., posting some of my favorite outfits to the Threadbared FB wall). But recent comments about her clothes seem particularly cranky and finger-waggy to me.

I’m against the policing of any woman’s body. Full stop.  But the racist legacy of policing the bodies of woman of color, in particular, is the reason I’m especially uneasy with the ways in which some in the fashion industry/media are so closely scrutinizing Obama. That they seem to feel so entitled to judge and comment, so self-righteous in their finger wagging is what makes me so uncomfortable. Bridget Foley of WWD actually argues that Obama’s choice not to wear an American designer during the state visit of President Hu Jintao was tantamount to an act of misconduct. She uses the word “embarrassing.” Now that’s embarrassing.

Look, there’s no doubt that Michelle Obama is a friend to Fashion but Fashion People, that don’t mean you own her.

11 Comments

Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING RACE

11 responses to “FLOTUS StyleWatch or, How the Fashion Industry/Media Embarrasses Itself

  1. Great post. I enjoy Michelle Obama’s great sense of style, but I’m also really sick of people criticizing/praising her wardrobe choices/body. (WHY are we talking about Michelle Obama’s arms again? She’s an amazing woman, and all we can talk about is how toned her arms are?) It’s sad to me that whatever Mrs. Obama chooses to wear, people will find something tragically wrong with her decision. Remember when she wore that beautiful Jason Wu dress for the inauguration? That time, people criticized her for wearing an Asian-American designer’s dress instead of supporting an African-American designer. Since when does supporting one designer mean NOT supporting another designer?

  2. Amen. MObama is absolutely getting an unfairly high degree of criticism and supervision (in the Foucauldian sense). It’s definitely because she’s young-ish, pretty, and black. It pisses me off.

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  4. Absolutely!

    It’s made extra ridiculous, in my mind, by the fact that the woman dresses BEAUTIFULLY.

  5. I think one of the reasons though, that she is being scrutinized so closely, is because for the first time in a long time, we have a first lady who is young — and appears to be young — in her choice of fashion. And she is not afraid to take risks with her fashion. I mean, think back to all of our first ladies recently — Laura, Barbara, Hilary, Nancy — can you remember anything that any of them wore? Well, Hilary, you probably can — but she is still in the news. Now add to that list, that Michelle is also our first lady of color, and she still has young children, and I think a lot of the flak is understandable. It drives me nuts, but she is breaking barriers, and somebody has to do it. Bare arms and shorts on a first lady has not been done before now, and it’s completely freaking people of a certain age set and mind set out. But when you also think of the number of women who started going to the gym and saying that they want Michelle Obama arms … wow! That’s a good thing.

  6. GingerR

    opps – I’m too old. Nancy Reagan caught a lot of flack for her wardrobe. It wasn’t that she wore such daring attire, but it was expensive. We saw bare arms on both Nancy and Hillary. Barbara Bush was too fat for bare arms, Laura kept her wardrobe on a low flame, proabably to avoid such talk.

    I think a lot of Mrs. Obama’s newsmaking is that she is younger than many, considerably taller and of a hales from a different class than first lady’s in the past.

  7. Kimi

    Totally unrelated, but have you written anything on this topic?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/fashion/09TRANS.html?_r=2&hp

    thanks and i love your blog!
    Kimi

  8. ITA!!! I love that she defies the so called fashion rules. Hurray for Mrs Obama!

  9. Lauren O.

    Mrs. Obama has more fashion sense and style then the last 5 or 6 first ladies of the US combined. She wear’s plenty of American designed fashion. So what if she wears a non-American designed gown overseas or here? It’s a global community and she’s done plenty to further American fashion already.

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