Recommended Reading: Everyday Icon by Kate Betts
What is it about Michelle Obama? Her style has really captured our imagination, hasn’t it? Kate Betts does a wonderful job of dissecting not only the First Lady’s style, but our ambivalence as Americans about style itself, in Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style. This book was enlightening about First Ladies: I felt as if I were receiving the most pleasant kind of history lesson.
Here are a few examples. Did you know that Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite color was pink? And that she took every opportunity to wear it? That Grace Coolidge was a trendsetter of the early ‘20s, and made the color red popular after she posed in it for her official White House portrait? Or that Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to wear pants publicly? Me, neither.
Of course, no discussion of First Ladies and style would be complete without Jacqueline Kennedy. But it was Dolley Madison who really captivated me. She first came to the White House in the role of “part-time hostess” for the widowed Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Eight years later, she was known as “Lady Presidentress” and the wife of the fourth president, James Madison, in 1809. She wielded high style like a saber: she entertained lavishly, she hired an architect to restructure the executive mansion, and she held “Wednesday drawing rooms,” weekly receptions that everyone in Washington wanted to attend.
She became known as “Queen Dolley” and adopted a luxurious and somewhat European look: satin, ermine, feathers and jewelry were not out of place on Dolley. And it’s widely believed that President Zachary Taylor coined the term “First Lady” in his 1849 eulogy for Dolley Madison: “She will never be forgotten because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century.”
Kate Betts refers to the First Lady’s style as “Casual Michelle,” and aside from the ballgowns and the special dresses for special events, you can see why. “Casual Michelle” looks like many women want to look: at ease, stylish, and comfortable, both in her clothes and in mixing J. Crew cardigans with Jimmy Choo shoes. I think Mrs. Obama looks terrific more often than not, but the one image that lingers in my mind is her amazing lemongrass-colored coat and dress for the inauguration in 2009. I have rarely loved a garment as much as I do this one!
There is so much more in Everyday Icon, so just go ahead and read it, and tell me what you think!