Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Close analysis of the outfit

Personally, I wasn't crazy about it because I thought it was a little matronly but here's what others have to say:

Here is a bolder woman, a serious woman from Chicago and Harvard who is not afraid to express herself with fashion, and it is the kind of confidence that many women will recognize in themselves. Her clothes tell us that she has an adventurous spirit, as well as a sense of humor, and if some of these garments have almost an old-fashioned womanly quality, then they tell us that she is indeed not your average fashionista.

Her inaugural outfit, designed by Isabel Toledo, was made of Swiss wool lace, backed with netting for warmth, and lined in French silk. Mrs. Obama also wore a cardigan over the sleeveless dress, as a buffer to the cold. She had on pale green leather gloves and a flat, latticelike necklace with clear stones.

Long considered a designer’s designer because of her attention to craft and her sensitivity to unusual detail, Ms. Toledo said she made the yellow outfit especially for Mrs. Obama. But until she saw the new first lady on television leaving Blair House for the trip to the Capitol with her husband, she did not know positively whether Mrs. Obama would wear the clothes or something from another designer. There has been a fair amount of secrecy around Mrs. Obama’s inaugural wardrobe, and even the designers who were asked to make clothes for her said they were not told in advance which outfits she would choose.

“I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine,” Ms. Toledo said in a telephone interview from her studio in New York. “I wanted her to feel charmed, and in that way would charm everybody else.”

Interesting that she's now worn two Cuban-American designers (Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren must be spitting tacks) - perhaps signalling an end to the absurd US trade policy with Cuba


Geraldine Ryan said...

I thought it looked very WI, personally. I hated the colour and don't like glitter on anyone above the age of about six but maybe that's just me.

If it had been me I'd have worn a fabulous coat and scarf. Not a dress and jacket in January - just doesn't make sense.

I loved the girls though!

adele said...

I agree with Geraldine Ryan! Do not like that colour at all and it seemed like an outfit which might have looked okay on the Queen but not here, in Washington on a very very cold day. Aretha's hat, as you say so rightly, stole the whole show and for once I thought Hillary looked both sensible in that royal blue coat (a much better colour than yellow)and I did admire her hair enormously. Very good streaks!! But Michelle's dress was a disappointment, I have to admit. Still, didn't detract from the day's excitement and the girls looked lovely and also WARM. The ball gown was okay but I'd have liked it better without that one shoulder thing which looked kind of tacked on at the last minute. Laura Bush was as elegant as ever and I do urge readers of this blog to read the wonderful novel based on her life by Curtis Sittenfeld. AMERICAN WIFE is its name and it's excellent.

phyllis said...

I liked it, and the reaction here at home was universally positive, although the First Lady seems to need some work in what finishing schools called "deportment". She needs to work on the how to walk and stand for the camera. Her carriage is slouchy too. If you compare her to the Queen (who has made this a high art) it becomes obvious. The soft tailoring of her ensemble really accentuated her poor posture.

mq, cb said...

Neither the colour nor the style of the inauguration outfit appealed to me, however I can see why it went down much better in the US. They prefer a different colour palette.

I couldn't figure out why she wasn't freezing though, but have now concluded that she may just have very good, supportive, thermal underwear. If so, I envy her that, oh how I envy her.

The ballgown I've only seen in a picture in the Telegraph but it looked a bit "fairy on a Christmas tree" for me, which doesn't really suit her shape or personality. Judging from that photograph, Phyllis is absolutely right about Mrs Obama's posture. If she's going to wear that style of dress, then she can't round her shoulders like that.

Really, she should have gone with Oscar de la Renta. Maybe he's a bit old guard for this brave new world, but he would have dressed her for her shape and personality and made her look elegant. Surely that's what you'd want in an Inauguration ballgown?

lagatta à montréal said...

I didn't like the day dress either, and while I'm sure she must have had silk or other warm undergarments, it didn't look right on that very cold day by Washington standards (think it was just as cold in Washington as in Ottawa yesterday, which is most unusual in the winter). It made me think there wasn't a plan B for an unusually cold winter's day in a city at the gates of the US South. And it was matronly, but that is a minefield when a relatively young and very fit woman is called upon to play such a ceremonial role. Here, Governor General Michaëlle Jean (also a very accomplished, brainy and attractive Black woman, from Haiti) is wearing clothes that look at least 15 years older than what she wore as a Radio-Canada/CBC journalist.

Barack, of course, looked as dashing as usual, and was properly dressed for a winter day.

They attended ten Inaugural balls, which is like running a dress shoes. My feet hurt just thinking of that.

Geraldine Ryan said...

I think that ball gown was the wrong shape for her too. Waisted dresses only really work on petite hourglass styles. She's more straight up and down I think and should have had a dress to skim her figure.

Poor woman, that's all I can say! Here we all are finding fault with her look as usual. Didn't take long, did it?

Anonymous said...

For me too, it looked matronly and didn't flatter her shape at all but it was an interesting piece. The thing I really didn't like: the tights.
The blue ensemble worn by the eldest daughter was perfect.
Because Michele Obama is tall and has a tendency to stoop, I fear she won't be giving hats a boost. Shame!

mq, cb said...

Geraldine Ryan is right; it didn't take long but then that is the function of the First Lady's wardrobe on the Inauguration Day.

The politicos scrutinise it for hints on policy, aided by the fashion editor's helpful descriptions of the colour and cut. (Poor souls. It's probably the one day in four years when they bother to talk to each other).

The gossip columnists scrutinise the cut to see whether it means that she might be expecting a happier event and the rest of us just think, "oh well, I wouldn't have worn that dear".

In the end, most people seemed to like it (even if they did prefer Aretha's hat) and very few outright hated it so whilst she hasn't done a Carla Bruni, it will probably go down as a credible effort

In other news, what did you think of the presidential ballroom outfit, and in particular the white tie? I thought that it looked a bit odd with a dinner suit. Unless it was done to co-ordinate with his wife's dress, which is a bit senior prom, isn't it?

I'm not quite sure why men feel driven to experiment with evening wear. They are in the fortunate position of being able to wear the same blessed thing for every formal event until they die (wear and waistline permitting). Why fool about with it?

Toby Wollin said...

Phyllis - I think Michelle has the same problem that many very tall women do (I know my sister and her daughter also have this issue), which is an attempt to make themselves 'smaller' by slouching. Sad but true. If I was that tall, I'd be standing up straight for sure. I also think she does not want, when in heels, to appear taller than the President.
As for the dress - I liked it - it was a standout color; unusual texture, and high contrast. I also found Jill Biden's outfit too young for her and it was frankly not warm enough to keep her warm because she looked pinched and miserable by the end of the day, whereas Mrs. Obama was still going strong. The white gown was only so-so for Michelle - she and Jill should have switched dresses.

mq, cb said...

Re tall women slouching in heels, the ever-sage Manolo says it far better than I ever could.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Princess Diana used to slouch when she started out, but look what happened to her style. Maybe Michelle will become more confident when she gets used to being looked at and put a bit of work into her stance and walk.

greying pixie said...

I was also a bit disappointed with her day outfit. I was expecting something a bit more chic in flame red cashmere or boiled wool. The whole lace story looked too much like a Prada rip-off.

I also didn't like her accessories. Green gloves always make me think of frogs legs, and they were really badly fitted and made her hands look enormous. Tight fitting dressy brown or black suede for this occasion I think. Ditto shoes.

And what was the reasoning behind the diamante? If ever there was an occasion to get out the pearls, this was it!

The ballgown too just didn't do it for me. She has such presence, she could have got away with something much more regal, very flared with princess seams.

Anonymous said...

I'm American, and I didn't like the outfits either. (And yes, I do think this scrutiny is stupid, but it bugs me when people rhapsodize about clothing choices that aren't very flattering in my view.)

I hate yellow to begin with, and the yellow of the outfit read pale acid green on my TV and I didn't much care for the glitter.

I assume the wool lace and underlying material was an attempt at making the garment warm, but it obviously was unsuccessful, as she had to wear a cardigan (on TV, it wasn't clear what that was.) A nice topcoat in wool, cashmere or camel with a beautiful scarf would indeed have been preferable.

I'm very conservative in terms of color combos, but I didn't understand the green shoes and green gloves, esp. since they were in different shades.

I kept trying to like the evening dress, but in the end I thought she was overwhelmed by it and the cut was wrong for her. I have a shape something like hers except I'm much shorter and it is hard to find clothes that work. I wish she would call up Donna Karan because her shapes and system of layering would probably flatter her.

The girls looked adorable, as usual. But it's almost a no-brainer to dress cute little girls. I have to admit that pink and orange, which Malia was wearing is not my favorite combination, but it worked for her.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Obama wore a 50s style print dress by Tracy Feith that once again, everyone on earth except me seems to think is great.

I sometimes wonder if I'm the one who's been brainwashed (although I'm very mindful of sexism, idealized female shapes, etc.).

I'm aware that beauty aesthetics don't come out of nowhere, they're usually established by the majority group.

Still, I don't like much of her choices.

Can't wait until she gets involved in a substantive cause -- I think she's interested in families with members who are serving in the military.

Miriam said...

I didn't like the outfit either, the style and colour were unflattering and detracted from her personality.

Michelle is refreshing compared with the other cookie-cutter first ladies, she's bold and organic. I suspect she has a wicked sense of humour...someone you can have a beer with, ya know?