Who dressed you?

Proof that a woman’s worst enemy is almost always another woman:

As a distant observer of fashion, but a close student of the semiotics of female power, I am a little puzzled by Michelle (Obama’s) frequent choice of sleeveless dresses at official moments. She is an attractive woman, whose height gives her a commanding presence, and it is clear that she puts effort into toning those upper arms. So the dresses look good; but this is not about pretty. She is in her forties, and the sleeveless sheath is the province of younger women, and/or socialites; it works for cocktails or a barbeque, but not church or work. (And yes, she is clearly channeling Jackie Kennedy. But Jackie’s clothes — and everyone’s in the early 1960s — were a lot more grown up and sophisticated.) The sleeveless bit seems too casual, and maybe a little too revealing for the role she is currently playing, and the one to which she aspires. Successful First Ladies — and here Laura Bush is a good model — manage to convey a careful mix of distance and familiarity.

Meow! Maybe Mrs. O. wants to demonstrate her lack of Kill Whitey tattoos. (Note that I am not so catty as to reproduce a photo of Mrs. Bush in one of her fun, distantly familiar outfits. But TBogg did.)

I expect we’re in for a great deal more of this. As a frumpy resident of the frumpiest part of the heartland, I only recently learned the meaning of “style” when used as a verb. My daughter’s friends, all cable-TV subscribers, “put together outfits” for one another, holding them up on hangers with necklaces and accessories draped over them. “Who are you wearing” is not a question for Jame Gumb anymore.

But you know what I like about the way Mrs. Obama dresses? That it looks like she does it herself. Maybe she doesn’t, but there’s a certain pleasant simplicity to her style, like she has a closet full of good, classic clothes and flattering accessories that she could put on in the dark and still stand an 80 percent chance of looking fine. I’m tired of all this batshit Pat Field “Sex and the City” sartorial lunacy. Michelle Obama wears her clothes; they don’t wear her.

In other words, she doesn’t need Andre Leon Talley, and if she has half the brain she took to Princeton, she’ll keep a few million miles between the two of them.

I’m always running out of here early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but after weeks of dragging myself through Rob’s 10 a.m. torture sessions at the gym, I’m finally feeling — if not seeing — some results. So I’m giving it priority. But I’ll be back later, to fill out the ideas for the last two genres in the DWIFF challenge — mockumentary and chick flick. (Groan.)

Posted at 9:42 am in Current events |

19 responses to “Who dressed you?”

  1. brian stouder said on June 19, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I really, really respect and admire Michelle Obama.

    Someday I will tell my great-grand children that I once shook her hand, and exchanged pleasantries (nevermind that the pleasantry-exchange lasted approximately 2.4 seconds!);

    even despite that nowadays, I routinely argue with my children’s grandmother (my mom!) about whether or not she is some sort of terrible person (I say – NOT!)

    Remember that scene in the great old chick-flick “Ghost”, where the bad guy gets killed in the street, and then the terrible black-hooded goblins come screeching out of the nether regions to drag his soul away?

    I think that with the demise of the Hillary Clinton campaign, lots of anti-woman types have abandoned her picked-over remains, and are now swooping after Michelle.

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  2. Dorothy said on June 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

    The TBogg link is taking forever to load and now my curiosity is going to kill me until I can see that picture of Laura Bush.

    I happen to have a sleeveless sheath on today at work, one I made myself. But I don’t look sleek at all, which is how Michelle Obama looks ALL the time. No one should presume to give her fashion advice. She does just fine on her own.

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  3. Sue said on June 19, 2008 at 11:02 am

    The great thing about being a first lady is that there is no job description. It’s also the scariest thing, because you get to screw up without even knowing it, by, say, letting your arms show. The writer above thinks Laura Bush is a successful first lady because first ladies need to carefully mix distance and familiarity. Others will disagree because Laura is so diligently unobtrusive. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of first lady either Michelle or Cindy will be – first ladies are way more interesting than presidents. Read their bios and you’ll see.

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  4. Julie Robinson said on June 19, 2008 at 11:15 am

    When will we stop objectifying women?

    Dorothy, did you sew your dress on your Singer Featherlight? I saw one here in Florida for $400! Remind me to tell the kids not to throw mine out after I die. It could be my one and only heirloom.

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  5. LAMary said on June 19, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I think Laura Bush is successful at not losing it completely in public. Whatever she’s using to ignore what’s going on around is is very effective and allows her to speak without slurring. The botox keeps the face looking serene. Distance and familiarity through pharmaceuticals. Or cosmetceuticals.

    Michelle Obama is a very tall Capricorn, and it’s commonly accepted that tall capricorn women have style to spare. And they rock.

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  6. Jolene said on June 19, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I find Cindy McCain a little scary. That eyeliner. Being totally out of the style loop, I’m not sure what the status of “raccoon eyes” is right now, but to me, this look is something that came and went. If that’s correct, Ms. McCain is then in the class of women who chose a somewhat extreme look in her youth and stuck with it well into her mature years—an odd choice given her wealth and consequent ability to purchase up-to-date fashion advice.

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  7. Dorothy said on June 19, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Julie I don’t own a Singer Featherweight, but wish I did! I have a Pfaff that’s about 10 or 11 years old. It’s a great machine. One of these days, though, I hope to stumble across a working Featherweight and buy it!

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  8. Julie Robinson said on June 19, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I learned how to sew on my mom’s Pfaff! Keep your old sewing machines; everything today is made out of plastic. The gears don’t hold up for very long.

    My sis, who does a lot of quilting, says many quilters won’t use anything but a Featherweight. I took it to college with me, since it was so small. Wonder how many girls today consider a sewing machine an essential for the dorm?

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  9. Dorothy said on June 19, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    All I know is my Pfaff helps me keep my sanity while squeezed into this 1 BR apartment.

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  10. kayak woman said on June 19, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    My younger daughter is a little out of the ordinary, I think, but she not only takes a sewing machine to college with her, she also has a spinning wheel.

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  11. Jolene said on June 19, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    I have a friend whose daughter described her “closet sewing” in her college essays. Got her admitted to Penn.

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  12. Catherine said on June 19, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    My church recently had a “shower” for 18 YOs who were aging out of foster care. One of them requested a sewing machine. My SIL and I were delighted to give it to her! Not a dead art at all.

    I’d rather not get into it over the candidate’s wives’ styles. It just serves to demean and/or obscure their true selves and their real contributions. Same as the endless freakin’ discussions about Hillary’s pantsuits. Can we talk issues? The commenters here are always so thought-provoking. Or, maybe we talk about John McCain’s sartorial choices? Who’s dressing him this week?

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  13. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Hillary’s “you get two for one” gambit for empowered women married to aspiring pol, and her subsequent career, make people look at spouses with new policy-related interest, while still having some fashion and social register sludge sloshing around in our heads.

    I don’t think we know yet quite how we want to look at political spouses, but off limits is off limits. They matter, and that’s not gonna change.

    That said, i can’t see any room for objection to Michelle Obama other than that she supports and affirms the idea that her husband is quite a bit more socialist-y liberal than he’s trying to come across. She’s not out ahead of him, or leaning in a whole ‘nother direction (the latter being the vibe i suspect people correctly get from Laura, ironically just as we did from Barbara Bush).

    My hesitation with the Obamas generally is a clear preference to having more governmental direction of the economy, individual lives, and odd details of family life (for a preview of coming attractions, check GoogleNews with “Quebec, field trip, custody”). But Michelle would be a fine First Lady, even if i didn’t support ninety percent of her husband’s political agenda — and i probably wouldn’t support at least fifty percent of McCain’s: it’s all a matter of degree.

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  14. nancy said on June 19, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    My hesitation with the Obamas generally is a clear preference to having more governmental direction of the economy, individual lives, and odd details of family life (for a preview of coming attractions, check GoogleNews with “Quebec, field trip, custody”).

    That last seems a bit unfair, Jeff; do you really think the Obamas are going to push policy to meddle in individual family squabbles?

    However, here’s a trick I found useful over the past 20 years or so: Keep repeating, “He’s a president, not a king.” Even assuming he gets a Democratic Congress, I expect a very different President Obama than candidate Obama. As for more government direction for the economy, I’d be pleased if they just closed the Enron loophole.

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  15. Catherine said on June 19, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t mean to shake a virtual finger or say that anything should be off-limits. I love a good snark as much as anyone (cf., Princess Beatrice). I just am somehow… weary… of the sexism inherent to the clothes/plastic surgery/toned arms talk. OK, yes, I’m still sad about Hillary. If there really are 18 million new cracks in the glass ceiling, which I would love to believe, how come we’re focusing on how Michelle Obama sat when she interviewed Matthew Broderick on The View?

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  16. MaryC said on June 19, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Dorothy, I can’t get TBogg’s link to load either but I’ll bet it’s the beige beaded dress that Laura wore to the Met exhibit of Jackie Kennedy’s clothes. One of the least flattering things I have ever seen her in and you do immediately think “sofa” when you see it.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Laura Bush ever since I heard her hobbies were reading and smoking (even though I gave up the latter 13 years ago). And also because (and Jeff alludes to this a bit) there’s something a little subversive about her, something that makes you think that she doesn’t really give a damn about living up to everyone else’s expectations of the First Lady, regardless of how many inner-city tots or breast cancer survivors they make her pose next to. Wearing the beaded beige sofa cover to a gathering of over-thin, over-dressed, over-botoxed society matrons? Kind of flipping them the bird, I thought. She could look stunning if she wanted to, but I think she wears those ill-fitting, muddy-colored, boxy pantsuits as another middle finger to the world.

    On the other hand, there’s no excuse for touring Europe in that wrinkled blue suit. She’s the First Lady — doesn’t anyone in her entourage know how to use a travel steamer?

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  17. Julie Robinson said on June 19, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    There is hope for our race when 18 year olds want sewing machines. Spinning wheel? Doubly cool.

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  18. Scout said on June 19, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Maybe the young hipsters that know how to whip up pillows, curtains and upholstered headboards on HGTV are the reason why the Y (X?Z?) generationists are proud of their home-ec skillz.

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  19. Dorothy said on June 20, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Actually Scout I read something awhile back that gave credit to the show Project Runway for getting young people interested in sewing again. Stores like Joann Fabrics and Hancock Fabrics have seen a huge resurgence in their sales and they gave credit to that show (and others of their ilk, I’m sure).

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