Dear First Lady Obama:
The fashion world eagerly awaits your arrival. You have already stated your position regarding style in various magazines: You unabashedly buy off the rack; you favor classic silhouettes, muted jewel tones, and natural fibers.
As you know, designers are dying to dress you. And why not? You are statuesque, with immaculate posture. Your arms are divine. And your face: angelic, yet strong. Comparisons are already being made to the always fashionable, never-a-style-misstep first lady of Camelot, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
But Carla Bruni, First Lady of France, has already cornered the Jackie market. If I see her photographed in one more wool bouclé suit with flats, I am going to scream. Not that I’m against classic tailoring; I love Jackie O. and her French clone (Plus, try making black clam diggers soignée. I dare you.)
Nor am I against off-the-rack purchases; the American public needs to cool their credit cards and repurpose some of their shit (before dropping it off at the Goodwill, natch, where I am waiting to snap it up.)
But you, First Lady, can create a whole new iconography of style. So, with no further ado, I humbly offer you my lifetime collection of Greatest Hits of 20th and 21st Century Fashion, from which you might derive some inspiration. For you, from one stylish lady to another, with as much love as a Gen-X-er can muster:
Singer, bad-girl darling of American jazz
She wore an orchid in her hair, a bias-cut silk dress with French darts, and perfect muted red lips. At 13, I owned that dress and that orchid, wore them to death, even to church. You could wear this classic v-neck look to your first semi-informal dinner. I am picturing cotton satin in a shimmering dark blue the exact hue of Lady Day’s voice.
Italian designer, iconoclast, surrealist
American movie stars wore her clothes, which featured details such as military tailoring done on the back of a coat instead of the front, and a hat shaped like a shoe. Her legacy of tailored suits with whimsical touches can be seen in Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel. Wear the suit; add a little whimsy. Diplomats will want to hug you.
Studio system costume designer, eight-time Academy Award winner
Remember the cocktail dress worn by Grace Kelly in Rear Window? The ingenious off-the-shoulder number filled out by Bette Davis in All About Eve? (The one with the pockets! Used to great effect by Miss Bette!) Everything Edith Head made was au courant, and done to a T. The clothes weren’t snug ? the
draping floated, the tailoring skimmed. You already have this innate sense of fit, Mrs. Obama. The Edith Head Force will be with you.
Activist, American icon, professor
A single bad picture of this woman does not exist. She epitomizes the postmodern axiom of absolute signification; you cannot mistake her message of liberation. In the 1960s, she wore a cumulonimbus Afro and serious sunglasses. Lately, ringlets fall around her face like a pre-Raphaelite goddess, yet her suits are somber and sharp. Google-image her holy name: Angela Davis is what a feminist looks like.
Polygender activist, burlesque performer, political writer, comedian
Cho is what fashion writers will call an “adventuress.” Early in her career, she seemed a little unsure what to do with her body, but one day a voice in her head must have thundered, “I’m gonna go get me a fitted dress embroidered with peacocks, and have Art Deco-inspired ink tattooed on my body!” Cho recalls idiosyncratic fashion deities who show up once a century or so: Cho is our Marie Antoinette. The time will come, First Lady, when you too will have to pull out all the stops.
Mrs. Obama, in the coming years you will be expected to be the epitome of everything: spouse of a president, mother of young children, capable professional, darling of the social world, and activist for the vastly underrepresented. All I ask of you is this: Open your heart to what has come before you, then stride firmly into the future.