Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Did You Think of What They Wore?

I was riveted by the coverage of the Inaugural festivities on Tuesday, not only because it was an exciting, historic day and all, but because I wanted to see what Michele wore and what she put on her daughters. This may sound strange, but it was a rare chance to see someone wearing her big, important outfit for HOURS, in all different situations, and to judge how her choice held up over a long day, not just for one photo op or red-carpet moment. Watching the fashion parade on Tuesday fed two preoccupations of mine: what goes into producing the images we as the public see, and I mean not just images as in pictures, but image in the sense of a person's whole public persona, of which clothing is a HUGE part; and the hidden, "background" work that women do for their families. So, Michele and Malia and Sasha all turned out for Inauguration Day held a LOT of interest.

When I saw the yellow suit, I thought, "That's the right dress on the right woman." Sometimes there is just no doubt. And there seems to be almost unanimous approval of the yellow day outfit. Here's what a bunch of designers thought.

On TV all day, it was fun how the outfit kind of revealed itself. It took a while to see the details, like the lacy texture of the fabric, the cardigan, the chiffon bow, and the jeweled collar. The yellow dress looked beautiful in the morning light as they were going to church, and again in the sunset when they were walking down Pennsylvania Ave, but there were lots of moments in between when I thought, "She looks cold and her feet are killing her." I think the color was genius--you could pick her out of every crowd shot. And the styling of the dress and coat really continued Michele's way of picking less severe, buttoned-up looks. For example, I was struck by how many times during the campaign she picked a dress when a suit would have been the conventional choice. So chic! My only quibble with this ensemble is that a coat that closed up completely might have been better. Many times, you could see that she was trying to pull the coat closer or hold it against her. A coat that buttoned, like Jill Biden's, might have given her a look of more repose. And I think all the women of the world were sympathizing with her as she walked down the street in those Jimmy Choos. I wondered what time her day had started.

Now, the girls' Inauguration Day outfits were custom-made for them by J. Crew, which has been in a paroxysm of self-congratulation ever since, putting out press releases and publishing their sketches. And I must say, I think the dressy coats with sashes were a perfect choice. They look pretty and childlike, and the clothes are classic--they don't date to any particular time. It was really amazing that the same outfit looked age-appropriate on both of them. When I saw the girls, I thought, "Somebody spent hours getting them ready this morning." Even before you get to how carefully their hair was fixed, it takes a long time to get a 7 year-old into a dress, coat with sash, and matching tights, shoes, gloves, and scarf. I'm tired just typing that.

That WSJ article in the link above says that J. Crew made 15 ensembles, with about 6 pieces each, for the girls and Michele, and that they weren't gifts--that Michele will be billed for the clothes. I wonder what the total will be? Bespoke clothes made over Christmas in New York instead of Hong Kong by a special team. . . I'm thinking $20,000 at least, but that could be low. Actually, given that J. Crew's share price jumped 10% after their press release, I wonder whether Michele should bill them?

You see that, Gymboree? That's what happens when your every new line for girls has either a little doggy or a cupcake on it. The First Lady doesn't pick you to dress her daughters. And you're left with only those "Jon and Kate Plus 8" people. I tried to tell you. (I did try to tell them. I wrote them a note explaining that little girls aren't baked goods, and that their continuous metonymic linking of the two is getting old.) But that? That's a whole 'nother thing.

So, the ball gown. Hmmm. What did you think? I think Michele always looks terrific, but the dress didn't really do her justice. The waistline made no sense to me. I think that either a lower-waisted, longer bodice would have been good, or something crazy like an Empire waist. And the one-shoulder thing is huge right now, but meh. When Matt saw it, he said, "Is she wearing the Bjork dress?" I was just so proud of him for remembering the Bjork dress.

I know there's a tradition of white inaugural gowns, but I thought it was a little bridal. Another color, as long as it wasn't boring presidential red or blue, would have been more exciting. What about gold? Too "let-them-eat-cake?" It seems like other people are underwhelmed with the white gown, given that way, way more has been said in praise of the yellow suit.

Here's what a bunch of designers thought about the white dress.

In this slideshow of "private" moments on Inauguration Day, we get this picture of Michele between parties.

Very sweet picture, right? But again, I'm thinking, why doesn't she have a coat? In the slideshow of white inaugural gowns, we see that Jackie Kennedy had a cape that went with her dress. I think some kind of wrap would have been more comfortable, and she would have looked more put-together.

And Barack looked good too. I'm sure we'll see that suit again, though, and I was a little too blinded by the blinding aura of power and competence, with all its blindingness, to really focus on his outfit too much. Except the white bowtie was balls. Pure balls. And Aretha needs to be taken bodily and put into the Smithsonian Institution. Her hat said, "It's party time," but the fact that it was the same fabric as her dress said, "I'm keepin' it real, y'all." Loved it.

What did y'all think?

Updated to add: Some of you commenters made the very astute point that, sure, maybe the white dress IS bridal, but what is wrong with that? I just heard Cathy Horyn in the New York Times say that the white ball gown "wasn't as sophisticated as the yellow outfit, but maybe it was an expression of Michele's fantasy." That rings true to me, and I think it's what you guys meant by saying, when else do you get to wear a big white dress? Horyn is a smart analyst of clothes. Here's the audio slideshow of her discussing the inaugural outfits.


Michele said...

Michelle is very classy. My 23 year old son thinks she's hot. I won't mention anymore about that conversation though.

I wasn't that impressed with Aretha's hat though. I'm just sayin'

Kate said...

Ok, so, yes Michelle's yellow outfit looked fabulous on her. BUT, seeing as how I was there with three pairs of pants, four shirts, two pairs of socks, a scarf, and two head coverings, all I could think when I saw her was I mean, even with all my clothing, I was still cold. It was painful for me to watch her. Especially at the parade, how she kept messing with her coat, and how she had a grimace on her face in between smiles. I do not know how she enjoyed herself.

I was really happy with her ball gown choice. The woman has amazing arms and the one shoulder top really showed them off. I also thought that going with the color white was confident and fitting. It's rare to get to wear a big white dress outside of your wedding, so I thought that was a fun idea.

Carrie said...

Michelle looked lovely in the yellow suit. Lovely but cold. That was obvious. I didn't like the lumpy bride dress at all, though. I hate one-shoulder dresses.

Thanks for posting that pic of them between parties. I hadn't seen it and it's so adorable.

Amy said...

Obama girls: sooo adorable. Loved the coats, loved the pink/orange combo, just presh. I did chuckle when I read an article rhapsodizing about how "everyday" they are because they wore J Crew. Then the article talked about how J Crew custom designed and made those outfits. "Everyday"?? Not so much. Put 'em in some Circo from Target and now we're talking about my everyday! :) But I have no beef with the Obamas about that. I mean, good grief, talk about outfit pressure--the WORLD is watching!

Michelle--I agree with you about the yellow dress and coat. Very classy and different. That woman can pull off what a lot of us couldn't. Helps being 5'11", I think! I loved the idea of the white dress and thought the one shoulder was nice, but it was a bit too poufy and "prom-y"for my taste, and I thought a different waistline would have been more flattering for her. But overall--lovely.

Oh, and LOL about Gymboree!

Casey said...

I didn't like the ball gown but I thought her gold dress was classic. The girls looked cute and age appropriate, I was glad to see that. They were very put together, all of them. I'm surprised any of them had a bite to eat all day since everything I eat usually ends up on my clothes.

A Day That Is Dessert said...

I thought she looked fabulous; I worried about the temperature and her staying warm though! I can't BELIEVE they are paying JCrew - you have got to be kidding me.

Michele said...

You must have written this post as an ode to your commenters who are the unique Micheles with one "L". :) People rarely notice our spellings but you do! I agree with you about the clothes. I felt that her white dress was too young looking, although a good decision to show her arms/shoulders. I am thinking about that light blue color like Drew Barrymore wore to Golden Globes. Or white and showing shoulders but in a different material with maybe a matching shawl. I could not believe that at 5:00 p.m. the Obamas were still watching parades. I would have fallen asleep standing up with my shoes in my hand...
--Michele in Atlanta

Jenni said...

i think michelle is gorgeous. i absolutely loved her inaugration suit. it was the perfect color and the perfect amount of fancy/reserved.

Veronica said...

I read in a fashion review somewhere that Michelle looked like a real woman getting dressed up, which is exactly what I thought. I think this is in line with what you said about how she often chooses dresses instead of buttoned-up suits--she looks to me like a real, interesting person who is becoming first lady, rather than a person who is dressing up like what the first lady is supposed to look like.

Loved the yellow ensemble. Liked, but didn't love the white dress. Loved Aretha's hat. Loved the girls' outfits, but love them a little bit less every time JCrew reminds me where they came from. When the most visible family in the world wears your clothes, isn't that the kind of press that just spins itself?

Sara said...

It looks chartreuse to me? But I do enjoy it. She always looks classy and like she's wearing what she likes instead of what someone else made her wear. She looks beautifully feminine but tough as nails. Lots of grace.
I think the ball gown could've just lost that tarzan sleeve/swan neck & it would've been fine.
The girls are pretty much always adorable.
How they managed that cold is beyond me.

Coffee with Cathy said...

Becky -- A great inaugural fashion wrapup. I always like seeing what Michelle Obama is wearing, even if I don't think she always makes the most flattering choice. I loved the coat and dress and even though I got what she was trying to accomplish with the ballgown, I wish she'd gone sleek instead of sweet.

The Stiletto Mom said...

I loved the outfit she wore during the day too, but I think we need to talk about the shoes she chose to go with it. The dress was a yellowish green which means the shoes (even though Choos) should never, ever have been green with blue tones...NO NO NO.

I also agree, the evening dress could have been more flattering. But what do I know? I voted for the other guy. :)