Sunday 9 December 2018

Michelle Obama breaks down her style strategy during her time in the White House with brutal honesty

US First Lady Michelle Obama laughs as President Barack Obama tells jokes during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad
US First Lady Michelle Obama laughs as President Barack Obama tells jokes during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad
" Becoming", a book by former first lady Michelle Obama, is displayed at the 57th Street Books bookstore
I like campaigning, energized by the connections I made with votes across America. And yet the pace could be gruelling. I stole moments of rest when I could. Copyright Callie Sell/Aurora Photos
First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia step off Air Force One August 16, 2009 upon arrival at Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Obama and his family will spend the day visiting the Grand Canyon. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Michelle Obama with daughters Malia and Sasha (Chris Radburn/PA)
A young Michelle during her time at Princeton. Photo courtesy of the Obama-Robinson Family Archives
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (L) come out from the White House for the arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grgoire Trudeau for a state dinner at the North Portico March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

Former US first lady Michelle Obama has reflected on the strategy that informed her personal style during her eight years in the White House.

Mrs Obama said she noticed early on in the campaign trail that much of the focus on her was around what she was wearing - rather than what she was doing - and sometimes, her perceived faux pas were used as ammunition for criticism .

"Sometime during Barack’s campaign, people began paying attention to my clothes. Or at least the media paid attention, which provoked all manner of commentary across the internet," she writes in her memoirs Becoming. "My pearls, my belts, my cardigans, my off-the-rack dresses from J. Crew, my apparently brave choice of white for an inaugural gown - all seemed to trigger a slew of opinions and instant feedback.

"Late in the summer of 2009, we went on a family trip in the Grand Canyon, and I was lambasted for an apparent lack of dignity when I was photographed getting off Air Force One (in 106-degree heat, I might add) dressed in a pair of shorts. It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say."

First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia step off Air Force One August 16, 2009 upon arrival at Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Obama and his family will spend the day visiting the Grand Canyon. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia step off Air Force One August 16, 2009 upon arrival at Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Obama and his family will spend the day visiting the Grand Canyon. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite her frustrations at some outlets fixation exclusively on her fashion, she harnessed that power as a force of good, showcasing up-and-coming designers and highlighting American labels like J.Crew, which were more accessible than Oscar de la Renta, whom she says was "displeased" by the fact she rarely, if ever, wore his work.

She covered the costs of her day-to-day wardrobe, whereas dramatic pieces for state dinners were loaned to her by the designers and later donated to the National Archives.

"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," she explained.

"As a black woman, too, I knew I’d be criticised 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."

Former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have both landed multi-million dollar book deals. Photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters
Former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have both landed multi-million dollar book deals. Photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters

Online Editors

Style Newsletter

Stay on top of the latest fashion, beauty and celeb gossip in our Style newsletter.

Also in this section