As the world prepares to farewell the current First Family of the United States, it seems timely to look back at Michelle Obama’s style and the sense of easy glamour she brought to the White House.
When she walked out onto the stage on Election Night in Chicago in 2008, she looked modern and confident, in a form-fitting Narcisco Rodriguez black and red dress paired with a simple black cardigan.
The dress divided critics (mostly because it was a bold, rather than a safe choice) but it also signalled that we could anticipate some fashion surprises from the new First Lady.
Mrs Obama was quick to support up-and-coming American designers, choosing to wear an ivory one-shouldered Jason Wu dress for the 2009 Inauguration Ball; the navy lace dress she wore to the President’s farewell speech last week was also by Wu.
Mrs Obama is a champion of the neat knee-length dress and looks especially sensational in a sleeveless sheath, such as the marigold Narciso Rodriguez shift she wore to her husband’s final State of The Union address.
Conservative fashion pundits did some tut tutting, questioning whether it was appropriate for Mrs Obama to bare her arms in a black Michael Kors dress for her official White House portrait in 2009.
The resounding answer was, if your arms are that toned and fabulous then yes, by all means.
Mrs Obama loves colour and print, but some of my favourite moments have been when she wears black – the Azzedine Alaia LBD in Germany (2009), the vintage black lace ’50s-style dress by Norman Norell in Washington (2010), or the sublime off-the-shoulder black satin Ralph Lauren evening gown she wore to meet the Queen in 2011 (accessorised by a spectacular Tom Binns necklace).
There is an effortlessness in the way Mrs Obama dresses that means she is both glamorous and relatable – her jewellery is costume, she loves J.Crew, she often favours simple hoop earrings and flats and she’s become famous for her cardigans, which introduced a nice sense of casual propriety.
One of my favourite outfits was when she appeared on The Tonight Show (2012) wearing a gold Michael Kors sweater and a J.Crew pencil skirt, just the right mix of low-key chic.
She obviously approaches events with cultural sensitivity, indicated by her choice of wearing designers relevant to the country she is visiting –a Missoni dress in Milan, Naeem Khan in India, a purple gown by American/Korean designer Doo-ri Chung to a state dinner with the president of South Korea, Christopher Kane in London.
And then she just throws in some real showstoppers for fun. The white Tom Ford dress and long white gloves in London (2011), the sublime Altuzarra dress in Marrakech (daughters Malia and Sasha looked equally fabulous), and the emerald green Marchesa Grecian style gown at the Kennedy Centre (2013).
Then there was the shimmering metallic Naeem Khan column dress at the Oscars (2013). And the ‘OMG she looks incredible’ Atelier Versace chain mail dress at the final White House State Dinner.
Mrs Obama is very, very good with evening wear. The shapes she chooses are minimal – often a strapless column in a sumptuous fabric or colour, which she accessorises with either statement earrings or a glittering necklace and bracelet.
My very favourite Obama fashion moment happened last year in Canada, and in this case it was the whole family and photos were used on the annual White House Christmas card.
The girls in their floor length gowns, Michelle in a black floral strapless Jason Wu, Malia and Sasha in Naeem Khan, President Obama looking happy and dashing as always.
A beautiful, elegant, dignified First family. They will be missed.