Although I may not agree with all her fashion choices, I admire the First Lady for having a distinctive and recognizable personal style. Michelle Obama wears form-fitting dresses with cardigan sweaters to keep off a chill rather than standard-issue Washington women’s power suits. She chooses vibrant colors and sophisticated prints. She selects accessories that make a statement, from her low-heeled and sometimes unexpectedly hued shoes to her wide belts, and, of course, her jewelry. Moreover, to the delight of value-conscious women everywhere, she repeats favorite pieces and uses them in different creative combinations.
The First Lady also sets trends with her use of jewelry. Just as she emphasizes her waistline with belts, she also likes to emphasize her necklines with jewelry. We’ve seen two fresh style trends emerge:
First, Mrs. Obama wears a necklace just inside the edge of a jewel neckline, as seen in the official White House portrait. This look requires precise sizing of the necklace to work with the dress or blouse it is adorning. For more on this trend, please see my March 23, 2009 blog post Trend Watch: On the Neckline-A Fresh Take on Jewelry Placement.
Second, Mrs. Obama wears three brooches of related design as adornment along the edge of a scoop neckline. Wearing three brooches along the neckline of her dresses has been a signature look of the First Lady since she came into the public eye during the presidential campaign.
Illustrations: Michelle Obama during the 2008 campaign, and in Virginia in July 2009.
What caught my eye is this photo of the First Lady taken in Copenhagen in October 2009, showing her wearing her signature three brooches pinned along the neckline of her dress on a strikingly hued evening gown.
The world takes note of the fashion choices of the First Lady of the United States. In the November 5, 2009 article “For the first lady, tradition gets side of Italian dressing” for the Washington Post, for example, Robin Givhan writes:
The design team at Moschino, led by Rossella Jardini, didn’t even realize that Michelle Obama was wearing one of the company’s ensembles the first few times it happened. She’d selected a chartreuse suit for a campaign rally in Iowa. But she’d cinched the belt, which had been sold with the collarless, hip-length jacket, in a pleasingly eccentric manner. It was tied in a bow and then adorned with an abstract brooch that looked vaguely Native American. Later, at the Democratic National Convention, she wore the jacket with black trousers. And without a belt. The result was to render the suit virtually unrecognizable to its own designer. Not that that was a bad thing.
Givhan interviewed Jardini of the Moschino design house in Milan for her views on the First Lady’s style. Givhan writes:
Jardini is also sensitive to the hurdles women face in crafting their public persona. “Everybody makes their own movie,” she says.
The designer laments that so often women in politics — in Italy as well as in the United States — tend to lose their aesthetic personality as their stature increases. “When women are elected to a certain level, women who’ve dressed in an exciting manner have a tendency to fall into the category of wearing little suits without detail and without personality,” Jardini says. “How we create an image is undervalued. If you take for instance Queen Elizabeth, she’s followed a strict code through life. When you see her, when you think of her, you see the little hats, the colors she chooses. When you think of political figures and how they choose to dress, it should be part of how they create their image.”
“For Mrs. Obama, it really is enough to put on two pins,” Jardini says, referring to the first lady’s choice of accessories. “With these brooches, from Moschino and others, she’s created a character for herself. They’re part of her code.”
Whether she is wearing two pins or three, brooches are part of the manner in which Michelle Obama employs jewelry not only to create a signature style, but also to craft her public image. This is the same technique used by Ivanka Trump in designing her wedding jewelry, which I discussed in my October 30, 2009 post.
Jewelry is not just about pretty baubles – it can be so much more.