No Suit for You: Why you gotta love the First Lady’s style

I like the First Lady and all, but I did not get why everyone freaked out about her style. The other day I read that she single-handedly revolutionized the American woman’s work wardrobe. While I’m not sure about that – or many of her fashion selections– it suddenly occurred to me that I really do love her sense of style. Why? Because I realized that I’ve never seen Mrs. Obama wear a suit. And this is a big deal.

We have seen her in daring designer gowns. We’ve seen her in shapely shifts a la Jackie O. We’ve seen her in cardigans, fun skirts and sparkly flats. But she doesn’t do The Suit.

You know The Suit. The Suit that all First Ladies, female politicians, and older female news anchors wear: the chest-flattening, hip-widening, waist-burying monstrosity of blah. I’d say it screams conservative, matronly and dull, but “screams” is too powerful a term for something that whimpers.

And if the smashing Mrs. O had started donning them after her husband was elected, she would’ve seemed like she was pretending to be something she wasn’t: dull. We all know she’s spunky. It’s not just in the way she dresses, but something else: Moxie? Chutzpah? She doesn’t have that “Ohmigosh please like me” demeanor that so many women have. She speaks clearly. She asks questions. She has a sense of humor. And those daringly bare arms of hers? They look strong. Not in that muscle-y Madonna, I could-crack-walnuts-with-these way, but in a don’t-mess-with-me, k? kinda way. When she showed up for her VOGUE photo shoot, she brought her own clothes. Apparently that’s “not done” in fashion magazines. Rumor has it that Mrs. O replied: Well that’s not how I do things.

She’s also young, and she dresses young. The Suit, aside from flattening any hope of figure-flattery, is an instant aging machine. Imagining her in one seems… well, hilarious. It just wouldn’t fit. (Now, she did wear a formal suit-like pairing for the inauguration. But it was covered in sparkles. Which was decidedly AWESOME.)

It’s not like the woman’s showing a lot of leg or anything. Doesn’t it say something that her bare arms made headlines? What is this, 1910? It’s silly to be stuck to sleeves when the rest of us aren’t, and her refusal to be so confined speaks volumes.

A friend of mine who had the fortune of seeing the First Lady speak last week texted me: She’s CURVY! She is, and she’s not hiding it.

It seems that she’s not hiding anything else from us either, although she’s in one the oft-critiqued role as the figurehead of American femininity. It’s not easy being a strong woman in that role –just ask Hillary– but she’s sent a clear message to the critics: Don’t mess with me, k? Maybe Hillary should have ditched the pantsuits for some Michelle-like pizzaz. Demanding respect doesn’t mean you can’t do pretty, too.

–By Tara Cavanaugh

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