In a town constantly overwhelmed by maneuvers and counter-maneuvers for power, Michelle Obama brings an uncontestable and unassailable grace to a city teeming with big egos (that of her husband included). The second inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America this week was as much a celebration of the man as it was a reaffirmation of the class and elegance of the wife. Nowhere was this more abundant than in the sophisticated simplicity of the First Lady’s appearance.
I found it hard not to be struck by the Thom Browne navy coat and a coordinating dress in which the First Lady was attired, accentuated by a $265 rhinestone sash-turned-belt from affordable retailer J. Crew. For me, the ensemble had the charmed look and feel of medieval royalty. It was further intensified by Michelle’s tall and athletic build which allowed her to carry this with an uncompromising contemporary elegance.
Even so, I’ll have to admit that not too particularly impressive was the bright red gown by designer Jason Wu which Mrs. Obama wore later in the evening. While I’m fond of the color, I found the loose-fitting of the dress a little underwhelming. Of course, this is based on a personal preference for a more fitted wear on a stature like that of Mrs. Obama’s; if only a bit closer to the body. But I do understand the desire of the First Lady to be conservative in such instance. She looked quite splendid, nonetheless.
And, of course, it is possible to not acknowledge the lady’s new hairdo. Even Mr. President humorously and admiringly characterized Michelle’s new bangs as the “most significant event” of the inaugural festivities.
But as subtle and harmless as that might sound, the joke underscores an identity we have come to associate with Mrs. Obama.
In an age where it is increasingly difficult to see black women wearing their own hair, Michelle, in these past four years, both on big occasions and mundane outings, has shown herself committed to a naturalness rare among many women of color.
Chris Rock, a few years ago, made a documentary chronicling what appears to be black women’s incurable dissatisfaction with their own hair and an insatiable demand for across-the-counter hair. A point further buttressed by Beyonce Knowles-Carter who showed up at the swearing-in with a whole lot of hair on her head that wasn’t hers—while shamelessly lip-syncing the national anthem.
Yes; the common defense I’ve heard is how hard it is for women of color to maintain their hair, the many hassles of straightening it out, and the like. But as Michelle shows, (a naturalness also seen in her two daughters), even the busiest and most visible woman on earth can make such a commitment if she so chooses to. I just believe three hundred and sixty-five days of wearing someone’s hair speaks to deeper issues of self-image and self-confidence—unless there’s a medical condition.
Ultimately, it seems we are ever more forced to live in a culture which hyper-sells artificiality and conformity while deprecating moderation and authenticity. On one of the biggest days of her life, Mrs. Obama chose to wear a stylish belt and pair of shoes from an everyday retailer like J. Crew. How many contemporary women of power will dare suffer themselves to such thankless modesty? I am sure there are quite a few. But it is a few increasingly in the minority.
Michelle provides a heart-warming moment of genuineness. As a brother, it is hard to overlook the beautiful sophistication of this down-to-earth sister.