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Michelle Obama faces a fashionable second term

NEW YORK: Michelle Obama has proven her fashion savvy time and again since she was introduced as the U.S. first lady in a lemongrass-yellow sheath and coat by Isabel Toledo on Inauguration Day 2009 – so much so that we don’t discuss it nearly as much as we used to.

Four years ago, there was a daily barrage in the media: Jason Wu gown! J. Crew gloves! Jimmy Choo shoes! It remained so for months and even years.

There was the Naeem Khan beaded strapless gown for the first state dinner in the Obama White House, and the black racerback dress by Michael Kors worn in her official portrait. Her wardrobe for the Obamas’ state visit to England, including the white cross-neck halter gown by Tom Ford she wore to a black-tie event with Queen Elizabeth in London, and the fiery red Alexander McQueen she wore for the state dinner the Obamas hosted for China, generated news around the globe.

Even more recently, her pink Tracy Reese dress was practically an honored guest at the Democratic National Convention in September.

One of the moments so many are eagerly anticipating Monday, when her husband enters a second term, is when she’ll emerge in her gown for the inaugural balls.

But she’s figured out a way to largely move the focus from her style to her substance. “What’s really interesting about the first lady is that she’s been able to incorporate the fact that she’s stylish into a much larger persona,” says Ariel Foxman, managing editor of InStyle magazine.

In the early going, there was intense focus on what she’d wear “because we hadn’t seen a first lady who had such an innate style and sense of color – and great arms,” Foxman adds. “It’s been exciting to see a first lady embracing fashion by remaining consistently interesting and diverse in her fashion choices, and in doing that, she’s been able to draw attention elsewhere.”

In an age of the overused term “style icon,” Obama is one of the few modern women to deserve it. In the past four years she has adeptly walked – usually in kitten heels or ballet flats – the line between directional fashionista and everywoman.

She has a pretty deep tool box and she knows how to use it, says Kevan Hall, a Los Angeles-based designer. “Every designer wants to dress her,” he says. (She has worn his label.)

“Just like any woman, she wants to look pretty, and I think she’s having fun with it. It must be fun to be a girl with a big White House closet,” Hall says.

She looks comfortable in clothes that can be a little edgy, and Hall says women find that inspiring.

Foxman describes Obama as a working mom who has those favorite go-to pieces: the sleeveless dresses, cardigans, capri pants, chunky jewelry, flat shoes and waist-nipping belts.

It’s nice to see that she often wears the same pieces, finding new ways to mix and match them, Hall says.

The fashion industry is looking forward to another term, giving another chance for her to wear a variety of designer names and brands and call attention to new designers.

“It’s a big business in this country,” Foxman says. “We’re waiting to see who she can pluck from obscurity on the inaugural night like she did with Jason Wu four years ago.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 18, 2013, on page 13.

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