Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Lady

Michelle Obama has been getting a lot of press for her strong, simple silhouettes and basic colors. We like her style. We like how she dresses to reflect the strong, independent, modern woman that she is. But Michelle reflects the style of another First Lady we admire: Jackie Kennedy.

Jackie Kennedy also wore strong and deceptively simple clothing. Like Michelle, she dressed to flatter a slender but boyish figure. She bent the fashions of the times to work best with her body. That's what real style is.

A study of Jackie's clothing shows demure necklines, short sleeves, and sheath dresses that started from her broad shoulders and skimmed her slender hips. The Jackie suits that she made famous were cut with a narrow angle between the armpit and waist to disguise a darling but unfashionably boyish waist. Her jewel neck suit jackets and tops wouldn't have flattered a busty woman, but they showcased her elegant figure. The strong colors and simple patterns she wore attracted attention without being distracting. She was all about cut and quality, like a Brancusi sculpture, or the best diamonds.

Michelle Obama's style reflects some of this sensibility, although with a more "of the people" attitude. I'm not sure we would have caught Jackie redhanded at J. Crew, and it was only reluctantly that she renounced her favorite French designers (but hired American Oleg Cassini to copy the best of their creations). Michelle, on the other hand, publicly scoffs fancy designer duds, but hides her multi-hundred dollar sports-style shoes in the closet. It all adds up to the same thing, really: they're both women who have the confidence to dress to suit themselves despite the watchful public eye.

For a woman with more of the Italian-styled slender hips but not too much of a waist or bust, Jackie's early- to mid-1960s style is perfect. The Xtabay has a treasure trove of cocktail dresses and suits right now that Jackie would have loved. Fabrics with a real hand, like raw silk and brocade, and in lipstick pink, peony green, and radiant black reflect Jackie's style, especially when made into sleeveless cocktail dresses with necklines begging for bold necklaces. Add a structured black patent bag and a low-heeled pump, and you are the picture of mod elegance. Come into the store, and we'll tell you if you're a good candidate for a Jackie, or if you'd be better off styling yourself after Marilyn.

Michelle might do well to take a page from Jackie's book. Who knows? Maybe she has. We've heard lots of talk about Camelot from the Obamas. A few more fancy dress receptions for foreign dignitaries and we'll know for sure.

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