Everyday Icon

Everyday Icon

Michelle Obama and the Power of Style

Book - 2011
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In many ways the world has never seen a First Lady like Michelle Obama. From the precedent of her race to the singularity of her style, she has been the object of immense fascination. What she says, what she does, and not least, what she wears, is scrutinized around the world.

Writing at the crossroads of politics and fashion, Kate Betts explains why Michelle Obama's style matters, and how she has helped liberate a generation of women from the false idea that style and substance are mutually exclusive. Following the transformation of Mrs. Obama from her early days on the campaign trail to her first state dinner at the White House, Betts, a longtime fashion journalist and former editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar, reminds us that while style can be expressed in what you wear, it is inextricably bound up in who you are and what you believe in. In a smart, breezy voice backed by extensive interviews and historical research, Betts shows how Michelle Obama's  bold confidence and self-possession have made her into an icon and transformed the way women see themselves, their roles, and their own style.

With two hundred color photographs, original designer sketches, and historical images, Everyday Icon is not only a lavish tour of our First Lady's style statements, but also a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how she created her image and, more important, what that image says about American style today. Much has been written about Michelle Obama, but Kate Betts places her in a broader cultural and historical context; Everyday Icon is the definitive book on how a working mother of two became an unforgettable, global style icon.
Publisher: New York : Clarkson Potter, ©2011
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307591432
Characteristics: xiii, 242 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 27 cm.

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floy
Sep 16, 2011

This is an interesting book because it combines fashion commentary with sociology. I’m not so sure though that Michelle Obama is trying to be a fashion icon; maybe she’s just getting dressed. But anyway…

The author writes that First Ladies are the focus of our nation’s anxieties “about women, gender roles, politics and power” and, to some degree, it’s always been that way. She devotes a chapter of the book to talking about previous First Ladies and maintains they’ve generally fallen under two categories: style or substance. Substance was preferred by Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter, and Betty Ford. Style was chosen by Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. Michelle Obama, according to the author, is the first to be both style and substance.

She calls Michelle Obama the first post-feminist First Lady but, as a feminist, I resist that. Some of the old stereotypes were never true. Michelle wears skirts and so do I. The author sees the First Lady as strong, individualistic, and vital and the bright colors and bold patterns she wears reflect her personality.

However, the author also acknowledges that during the campaign and in pre-campaign days, Michelle was seen in the usual lawyer attire – the corporate power suit. But, after commentators started criticizing her as being an “angry black woman”, her wardrobe noticeably changed to emphasize her softer side.

There is also discussion about how Obama is aware of being a role model to young women, especially young black women. Therefore, I find it puzzling that no space is given in the book to the issue of hair. This is a big issue among black women and the fact that Michelle has straightened her hair for decades is disappointing. It appears that she might even have her daughters’ hair straightened. The subliminal message is that black hair isn’t good hair and needs to be chemically restrained to be respectable. Michelle is a beautiful intelligent black woman in the world’s eye; how wonderful it would be if she wore her hair “natural”. Maybe that will happen before she leaves the White House.

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