Michelle Obama’s time in the White House has come and gone, but the people’s fascination with her has not waned in the slightest — particularly when it comes to her fashion choices.
Since entering the political spotlight in 2008, the 57-year-old’s every outfit change has dominated headlines, sometimes eclipsing her own initiatives. She recalled a time early on in Barack’s presidency when a reporter seemed more concerned with who designed her dress than her actual speaking engagement. “It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say,” she wrote in her new memoir, Becoming (Nov. 13), according to Elle.
Becoming conscious of this fact, the former First Lady then decided to use her platform to champion emerging designers and represent the American fashion industry on a global scale. With each of her carefully calculated outfits, she cemented her place as one of our most fashionable first ladies in history.
Now, Obama is opening up about how she navigated the sartorial scene while serving in the White House, sharing with Elle exclusive excerpts from her memoir about the considerable thought that when into her wardrobe.
“Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit,” she wrote. “It required time, thought, and money – more money that I’d spent on clothing ever before.”
She adds that her aide and stylist, Meredith Koop, also helped her tremendously where research was concerned. “She’d spend hours making sure the designers, colors, and styles we chose paid respect to the people and countries we visited.”
The thoughtfulness always shone through in Obama’s sartorial choices, like when she wore Indian-American designer Naeem Khan to receive the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife at her first official state dinner in 2009; or when she wore Marchesa — founded by Brits Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig — to welcome UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012; or even when she chose to wear a gown by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang while meeting President Xi Jinping of China in 2015.
Mrs. Obama clearly paid a great attention to detail with her sartorial choices, however the same could not be said of current First Lady, Melania Trump or First Daughter, Ivanka Trump.
The pair have had a few fashion missteps since stepping into their respective White House offices in 2017. Who could forget the time that the First Lady wore the $39 Zara coat that read, “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” on the back while visiting an immigrant children’s detention center in Texas? Her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, said at the time that “There was no hidden message” in the jacket, while the President himself contradicted her, noting that the jacket was sending a message to the media. Either way, it appeared to most that Melania didn’t think her choice all the way through.
But it’s important to note that Mrs. Trump has had a slew of other controversial fashion moments, the most recent being her decision to wear a Pith helmet — a symbol commonly associated with Colonialism — while embarking on a safari in Kenya. Not to mention, she rarely pays homage to international designers while abroad.
Ivanka, too, has been criticized for insensitivity when it comes to her clothing choices. In January of last year, she was taken to task on social media for posting an image of herself in a shiny $5,000 gown in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, while images of children in similar looking foil heat blankets were simultaneously circling the web.
On the whole, the most glaring difference between the Trumps’ and Obama’s style boils down to thoughtfulness. On the day to day, Melania and Ivanka look polished, stylish and work appropriate. But where Obama went the extra mile, showing her goodwill towards her international guests by thoughtfully choosing her designers, or attempting to relate to everyday Americans by mixing “high” and “low” brands (like a Michael Kors skirt and a Gap T-shirt), the Trumps have chosen not to alter the luxury wardrobes they’ve worked with since before holding public office — a statement in and of itself.
Given that the Trump empire was built on optics, and that both Melania and Ivanka have fashion backgrounds and deep pockets, we would have expected the pair to be more conscious of the impression their clothes are leaving. No, it’s not a requirement for them to follow the precedent set by Michelle (or even the royals, who pay homage to host countries during international visits as well), but it couldn’t hurt, right?