Dear fashion world at large,
I wondered how you were going to play it. I wondered if you were going to be drinking deep from the fabled river in Egypt when it came to Michelle Obama's inauguration dress, or if you were actually going to call it as your eyes saw it– which is to say, unflatteringly draped on the body of a woman who deserved to look better on her first day on the job.
Robin Givhan in particular gave us a saccharine whopper, confusing the importance of the husband's moment with the relevance of a dress that made his wife look big, bulky, dowdy, and –yes, I will say it– FRUMPY.
(sorry– WaPo online is subscription, but it's worth it)
(And P.S. to Ms. Givhan: most women LIKE looking pretty. Next thing we know, you'll be writing about how lukewarm water is made by mixing hot and cold water. Earth-shattering, I know. Please credit me as a source if you go with that lead.)
Michelle Obama has shown us a few things about herself in these whirlwind months:
1. She has a nice, healthy-looking body and buff arms;
2. She's taller than her husband, at least in moderate heels;
3. She can look quite good in her clothes;
4. But every once in a while she can pick some sublimely, unflatteringly ugly dresses (see her horrid Black Widow Spider fiasco that she wore the night Obama won the election).
So let's get one thing out of the way: I bear no ill-will against Michelle Obama as a possible fashion icon. I think she brings new blood to the office of First Lady, and I look forward to seeing her style develop as she becomes more comfortable in her role.
Let's get another thing out of the way as well: one man's bane is another man's blessing. In other words, what some may think is ugly or unflattering, others may find beautiful, harmonious and complimentary. This is why art –and make no mistake, that fashion is a big part of art– is so subjective and hard to categorize.
But there are a few things most people can agree upon. I will also list these:
a. Fit is an essential part of any outfit. Bad fit= bad outfit, regardless of how pretty the materials or the colors may be.
b. Certain colors look better on people, more so than others. This is known as the Color Me Beautiful principle. Some may deride it, but people who look good in jewel tones should not try to go with drab colors, and vice versa, and that is a fact. Yes. I said "fact."
c. A person who normally looks good in clothes but suddenly looks dumpy in her clothes should blame the clothes and not herself. She should also stay away from those kinds of clothes (paging Isabel Toledo and issuing her a restraining order against her sewing machine).
So back to Michelle Obama emerging from the Capitol yesterday:
I was disappointed.
I could definitely see the merits of wanting to wear a cheerful shade of lemongrassy yellow on a cold winter's day; however, there are several points wrong with her choice, the first of which was that the color DID NOT LOOK GOOD ON HER.
It was a shade that was neither here nor there– neither really yellow nor really gold, and definitely not green enough. Certainly not even in the ballpark of Pantone's color of the year –mimosa yellow, and possibly a much better choice of a bright, delightful yellow for our new First Lady. The diamanté collar ornament thingy was a bit over the top for morning, but it was kind of cute and did not bug me. What bugged me was that HER OUTFIT MADE HER LOOK FAT.
Fat. Bulky. Dumpy. Like the Michelle-in woman. Padded. Oversized. Possibly warm, thank goodness, because it was cold yesterday. But yeah– I said it: she looked BIG.
Michelle Obama is a brickhouse to begin with: she is not a petite Laura Bush type, who in my opinion looked elegant and understated in a lovely shade of gray (which I'm sure many people found boring). She can and should wear tailored outfits that show off her shape, but without dipping into no-pantyhose, skirt-way-too-high, and boots-way-too-young-for-her Jill Biden territory. But her dress made her look like she had been padded, and not just for warmth. Add to this her impressive height, and you have something in which she would and did look uncomfortable for a good part of the day. You don't need to be a body language expert to see that in many of the official pictures of the day, Mrs. Obama is seem trying to blend into the background and diminish her shape– something she was not trying to do with her far-prettier inaugural ball dress.
So, no. Please don't try to sell to people with eyes that Mrs. Obama looked awesome while holding that Lincoln Bible: it's unfair to her, and to the many sartorial possibilities yet to happen through her.
She can look better than that, and I hope she does, because fashion is supposed to be fun and because being about ten years younger than the outgoing First Lady and much more statuesque than, say, Mrs. Clinton (not to mention less padded in the saddlebag area) gives her a great advantage and plenty of unexplored places to go, fashion-wise.
Just, please– let us all stay away from the Nile.