For Michelle Obama, being FLOTUS (first lady of the United States) means taking a strong stand on issues such as childhood obesity and healthy living. Mrs. Obama has also been a true American fashion symbol since moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The first lady's modern, chic style and bold choices in patterns and silhouettes have given rise to many blogs and flattering slideshows focusing on her fashion sense, and she's been called a style icon on more than one occasion. Almost every time Mrs. Obama steps out of the White House, she looks like she's ready to walk down a red carpet.
Here are 10 fashion lessons we can learn from Mrs. Obama. How many are you already following?
Michelle Obama has amazingly toned arms and legs, and she's not afraid to show them off. She's known to spend a fair amount of time at the gym, and promoting exercise for children is a major personal platform of the FLOTUS. She frequently wears clothing that highlights these physical strengths, such as sleeveless outfits that call attention to her shapely, buff arms. The first lady's penchant for sheath-cut dresses accentuates her tall and trim figure, as do the belts that cinch her waist. While Mrs. Obama doesn't often wear high heels, she has been known to don small heels paired with a knee-length skirts, which keeps her legs lengthened without having to show off too much.
A stunning, flowing gown or a smart, tailored suit is a great base for any outfit, but it can be just the beginning if you're trying to wow a crowd. The first lady loves to compliment her ensembles with accessories. She frequently wears jewelry such as teardrop earrings, stacked bracelets and funky necklaces, all of which are far from the standard string of pearls. She's also been known to spice up a sweater or jacket with a unique brooch not worn on the traditional lapel. Mrs. Obama often places a brooch near her neckline or even hanging from a plain necklace. She has a penchant for belts, which help cinch her waist and add unexpected flair to what may be an otherwise simple outfit.
The public loves most of Mrs. Obama's fashion choices, but there are some looks even her most ardent supporters can't get behind. For the most part, the first lady has been spot-on with her fashion picks, whether for a black tie event or meeting kids on a school playground. It was shocking, then, to see her in a plain black and white, sleeveless dress and frumpy cardigan to meet the queen of England. That's definitely not the time to be casual! Another fashion faux pas for the first lady occurred during her husband's inauguration. Her choice of a bright yellow suit brought images of happiness and sunshine, but the heavily brocaded fabric made us think of uncomfortable couches and heavy drapes.
Knowing how casual or fancy you need to appear in advance of an event is key to dressing for success. Under- or overdressing is potentially embarrassing and uncomfortable.
The first lady knows what colors work for her, and she uses them to her advantage. Blue is her signature hue, and the various shades she has worn through the years have always brought high marks to her fashion grade. She often dons blue during significant public appearances, such as a state dinner with the British Prime Minister and his wife, as well as her first appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman." Considering blue is a color that evokes a feeling of calm and relaxation, she has the right tone for the job.
While many of Michelle Obama's favorite fashions are successful, some trends need to be toned down a bit. For example, the first lady has a love for flower print dresses, which she frequently wears during the spring and summer months. When she dons them on what seems to be a weekly basis, though, her frequent flower power starts seem like she's weighing everyone down with seasonal allergies. Sometimes, a quieter design (or no print at all) equals a calmer, fresher look.
The same can be said for her love of cardigan sweaters. While cardigans come in an endless variety of colors, styles and embellishments, we wish Mrs. Obama would mix things up a bit. How about trying short jackets or simple, elegant sweaters? No matter how much you like a certain look, once it's become tired and expected, it's time for a change.
Michelle Obama would probably like to rock sky-high Louboutin heels every day if she could. But at 5 feet 10 inches, the first lady is about as tall as her husband, without shoes. She's often seen wearing low pumps with kitten heels or flats during the day, so as not to appear taller than the president (and to not completely tower over anyone else she may meet). Mrs. Obama definitely uses shoes to her advantage, often wearing them in funky colors and fabrics, with prints or embellishments that make them as stylish as a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos.
When developing your style, make sure you wear the right kinds of shoes. If you're tall, choose footwear that makes you appear proportional but still lengthens your legs. That way, you can look great without towering over your date (especially if he's the leader of the free world).
Michelle Obama has claimed she was a bargain shopper before she became the first lady. She's even been spotted at Target since her husband took office, completely dressed down and incognito. But just as Mrs. Obama has shown that you can still look chic in cheap threads, she also knows when it's time to put on the glitz. She's regularly wears designer-made clothes to state dinners, for example.
For most people, buying expensive clothing for daily wear isn't practical. That doesn't mean you can't splurge sometimes. Find a few signature pieces that cost a little more, such as a little black dress or a spring jacket. By selectively choosing pieces that you know look great and will last a long time, you're adding both fashion and practicality to your wardrobe -- without breaking the bank.
When you're FLOTUS, the world is watching you almost as much as your husband. Like many first ladies before her, Mrs. Obama's wardrobe is under just as much scrutiny as her political ties. Her wardrobe choices may not always be popular (take, for example, her choice of a decorated white dress during an inaugural ball, where she was compared to a wedding cake by some critics). However, Mrs. Obama will often shun popular opinion and opt for brave color schemes, prints and silhouettes. Women love her simply because she's following her own sense of style. It's not that the first lady doesn't care what the public thinks -- she simply knows that not everything she wears will make everyone happy. But as long as she's pleased with her own look, she's won the fashion battle.
Can it be? Michelle Obama has been spotted numerous times repeating outfits, or portions of outfits, in public! She often favors signature summer dresses, cardigans and jewelry, and has reworn clothing choices outside the White House on multiple occasions. While in certain fashion circles this can be appalling, for most of us "regular" people, a repeat of a favorite dress or outfit shows that the first lady is down-to-earth. If you find a piece of clothing that is comfortable and looks great, why put it away when you can show it off again and again?
Mrs. Obama loves to mix and match big retailers with high-end designers. She's been spotted wearing J. Crew, Talbots and clothing from Target nearly as often as she's embraced high-priced, one-of-a-kind pieces. Mrs. Obama even mixes high and low labels for her ensembles, such as adding a belt that costs as much as (or more than) the rest of her outfit, or pairing an off-the-rack affordable sweater with an off-the-runway skirt. Her ability to embrace both high- and low-priced designers has made her style appealing to women everywhere.
Where do those red carpet dresses go after their big debuts? HowStuffWorks follows the trail.
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- CBS News. "White House state dinner fashion: What did they wear?" March 15, 2012. (March 17, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-57397967-10391698/white-house-state-dinner-fashion-what-did-they-wear/
- Chang, Bee-Shyuan. "Wooing the First Dresser." New York Times. Feb. 10, 2012. (March 17, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/fashion/michelle-obama-wooing-the-first-dresser.html?_r=2&ref=michelleobama
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- Levy, Ariel. "Michelle Obama in the Fashion Spotlight." Elle. March 6, 2009. (March 19, 2012) http://www.elle.com/Fashion/Fashion-Spotlight/Michelle-Obama-in-the-Fashion-Spotlight
- MSNBC. "Michelle Obama's Favorite American Designers." (March 25, 2012) http://powerwall.msnbc.msn.com/politics/michelle-obamas-favorite-american-designers-8836.gallery
- Oliver, Meg and Suzanne Yeo. "The Midas Touch? Michelle Obama's Fashion Choices Move Markets." ABC News. November 8, 2010. (March 26, 2012). http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/michelle-obama-fashion-choices-influence-stock-market-nyu/story?id=12083501#.T3ByMo5hwXw
- Puente, Maria. "Duchess Catherine, Michelle Obama wield style power for good." USA Today. August 30, 2011. (March 17, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/story/2011-08-30/Duchess-Catherine-Michelle-Obama-wield-style-power-for-good/50196862/1
- Raphael, Rina. "Michelle Obama goes for bold blue (again)." Today. January 25, 2012. (March 17, 2012) http://thelook.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/25/10233612-michelle-obama-goes-for-bold-blue-again