Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Politics of Power Dressing

Apparently, not everyone liked Michelle Obama's State Dinner dress as much as I did. Oscar de la Renta for one. The legendary designer told WWD, "My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade — American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes?". Sour grapes maybe? The First Lady has yet to wear Oscar, while he was a favorite of Laura Bush and Hilary Clinton -- but Obama has worn a piece by Oscar's up-and-coming designer son Moises (see below), which is a statement in itself.

Perhaps Oscar has a point. But one thing is for sure, no matter what Obama wears, she is sure to be scrutinized... as are all women in the public eye (including the women in my First Lady of Fashion post below). On topic is a new book coming out next month by fashion journalist Robb Young, called Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians and Fashion.

Here is the description of the book on Amazon:

Some find the constant scrutiny an unwelcome intrusion; others use fashion as their secret weapon. Whatever their views, women in politics know they will be judged by how they dress more than their male counterparts. In Power Dressing, fashion journalist Robb Young offers an engaging perspective on the ability of style to influence the careers of women politicians and first ladies. Concise thematic chapters are interspersed with profiles of more than 50 serving and former women presidents, prime ministers, MPs, royals and wives from over 30 countries, ranging from such contemporary figures as Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Queen Rania of Jordan to such iconic women as Eva PerĂ³n, Imelda Marcos and Margaret Thatcher. Featuring hundreds of photographs that shed light on political context, and quotations from prominent figures commenting on each woman's style, this fascinating book reveals the milestone `fashion moments' as well as the unspoken rules of the political fashion game.

Should be an interesting read. If anything just for the pictures!


  1. I tend to agree with his point, (not to distract from the beauty of the dress) that the First Lady should have worn either a Chinese designer or a Chinese-American designer. In the spirit of what that night is about and the ultimate honor it is. For the First State dinner by wearing Indian-American designer Naeem Khan she seemed to embrace this approach, and I think it set the stage, but for Mexico’s State dinner she wore an American designer. Previous First Ladies pretty much honored their favorite designers, but as you wrote Mrs. Obama is different and embraces fashion.

    I like the idea of the book, but really haven’t found the right balance of looking professional yet maintaining femininity. I spend my days in front of elected officials, (read: govt suit wearing chaps), but the suit look it getting a bit old. I’ve paired some dresses with cardigans, but still feel a bit drab.

  2. Business chic is a challenge... Especially in Washington, I would imagine. I think Michelle Obama does an amazing job looking polished while adding some personality! But she is the First Lady... You should set up an appointment with a personal shopper at Neimans there. It's a free service and they might really be able to offer insight.