RSS
The fashion industry vs. Michelle Obama
Some in the American fashionistas think the First Lady should wear more homegrown designers, but she says she wants to focus more on her causes and less on her clothes
 
Michelle Obama wore a British-designed Alexander McQueen dress to a state dinner last month, to the dismay of American designers.
Michelle Obama wore a British-designed Alexander McQueen dress to a state dinner last month, to the dismay of American designers.
Getty

Last month, Michelle Obama incensed the American fashion industry by wearing a dress by British designer Alexander McQueen to the China state dinner. Designer Oscar de la Renta questioned the decision, given that the visit was meant to promote American-Chinese trade. The First Lady responded to the criticism on ABC's "Good Morning America" saying her motto was "wear what you love" and adding that she needs to devote her attention to her core issues such as health and military families, not the fashion industry. That only further incensed fashionistas, and this week Obama again addressed the issue at a White House lunch, saying "I like to patronize American designers," but, in the end, "clothes are just the thing that you wear to do the stuff you need to do." Is that view too short-sighted for a first lady? (See Michelle Obama's "Today" interview)

What she wears really does matter: The First Lady and the fashions she chooses "can make a world of difference in people's lives," says designer Nanette Lepore in The Huffington Post. She has put young American designers like Jason Wu "on the map" by wearing their clothes, and, by promoting American clothes on "the international stage," she can help a struggling "industry that is in danger of leaving our shores permanently." I wish she'd realize that she "can support her causes and simultaneously support a valuable American industry and the thousands of people it employs."
"The First Lady's dress"

Her critics are somewhat justified: While certain occasions, such as the inauguration, justify the "vigorous fashion scrutiny" the First Lady receives, her clothing choices have taken on an "outsize importance," says Robin Givhan in The Daily Beast. Since "China's president had asked for an all-American evening," Obama probably should have worn clothes by a quintessentially American designer like Ralph Lauren. Still, part of the appeal of Obama's style is that she sees fashion as "a matter of personal expression."
Who's dressing Michelle now?"

It's complicated: A first lady doesn't "have the luxury of saying whatever she wants," says Sadie Stein at Jezebel. Still, her declaration that you should "wear what you love" shouldn't be "read as an indictment of American fashion." When she wears fashion by an American designer, as she often does, it's because she genuinely loves it, not to project an ideology. "Isn't that as much of a vote for American fashion as anything?" Besides, if "she did profess an abiding love for fashion" — à la Nancy Reagan or Jackie Kennedy — that would open her up to a "whole different kind of criticism."
"Is Michelle Obama abandoning fashion?"

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week