The First Lady of the United States has always been a style icon to the American public. Wherever her role lies on the spectrum from Hostess-in-Chief to Dragon Lady Co-President, the First Lady’s image visually embodies a belief system and many American women who admire The First Lady’s beliefs emulate her fashion choices. So far this election year, I’ve noticed that there has been little campaign coverage in the fashion press, perhaps because comparing a candidate to a candidate’s wife is an apples-and-oranges situation. Now that the style competition is head-to-head between the two potential First Ladies, the fashion press – myself included – will be taking a more critical look at both contenders.
Michelle Obama has recently been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy who sparked fashion trends every time she walked out the front door of the White House. In the Camelot years, Mrs. Kennedy’s fashion statements drove women to their dressmakers and pattern suppliers. In today’s internet age, a Google search and two clicks will have the very same dress on its way to your home. Mrs. Obama’s recent appearance on The View in a $148 Donna Ricco black-and-white sleeveless shift dress caused an immediate run on the dress nationwide. She failed to mention the name of the store on the program, referring to it as a store where everything is black-and-white. Perhaps her handlers told her that saying â€œWhite House Black Marketâ€ wouldn’t poll well. Regardless, she looked great and I enjoy seeing women all over New York, in the streets and on the subways, in the exact same dress. It’s a style that looks great on a variety of ages, colors, and sizes. I’m all for responsible fashion trend setting and this one was a winner.
Cindy McCain‘s fashion sense may be different, perhaps slightly more sophisticated, than her counterpart’s but it is no less fashion forward. Her penchant for stylish, well-tailored skirt suits has fashion critics comparing her to the perennially well dressed Nancy Reagan who favored red Adolfo suits and is still seen in them today. (At 86, she’s still a size 2.) Mrs. McCain favors Escada skirt suits for their perfect fit on her trim frame but acknowledges that she will have to part ways with them if her husband is elected – not unlike Mrs. Kennedy and her favorite French couture. Mrs. McCain stays away from her party’s and Mrs. Reagan’s signature red, favoring instead pale pastels in lightweight knits and crisp linens. I had fully expected to see these runway influenced colors and fabrics on New York executive women earlier in the spring, but they are just starting to crop up on the streets now. Clearly, strong powerful women take their fashion cues from other highly visible powerful women.
The must-have purple of this year’s pre-fall collections showed up a little early on the campaign trail. Mrs. Obama wore a purple sleeveless shift dress when her husband accepted their party’s nomination in June. Mrs. McCain wore purple on the campaign trail as she smilingly supported her husband during his stump speeches. Perhaps purple is the new neutral among political types. We have definitely come a long way from the Republican and Democratic candidates’ wives wearing solid red and solid blue, respectively. Today’s First Lady candidates have to appeal to a much broader audience and their fashion choices are that much more important.
Regardless of your political affiliation or who wins in November, we now have a real race where the winner doesn’t get a crown and a dozen red roses. She wins the political fashionista sweepstakes. She gets to elevate American design to the global fashion runway stage. She gets to elevate one designer in particular with her choice of gown for the endless night of the Inaugural Balls. She gets to choose a gown that millions of people worldwide will see and copy, and, ultimately, she gets to gift it to the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of First Lady’s gowns to influence future generations of fashionistas and fashionable political types.
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Michelle Obama in Donna Ricco Dress latimes.com
Michelle Obama in Purple style.com
Jackie Kennedy Gown metmuseum.org
Cindy McCain in Purple nymag.com
Cindy McCain in Yellow nypost.com
Nancy Reagan Gown newsdesk.si.edu