Mrs-O.com is a blog dedicated to chronicling the fashion and style of First Lady Michelle Obama. Founded September 2008. 



What Laura B. Wore

 White House photo by Susan Sterner; Design by Oscar de la Renta

We have to credit The Daily Beast and editor Hailey Eber for having good foresight into the inaugural gown mania. Just days after the election, and a good month before the WWD sketches appeared, The Daily Beast debuted the results of "The Ball Gown Challenge". They had briefed former Project Runway contestants to design an inaugural gown that was "at once stylish, patriotic and appropriately thrifty for the recession" using only Laura Bush’s 2005 Inaugural Ball dress, an American flag, burlap sacks and $10 worth of trim.

We must admit, the first question we had to ask was: What did Laura Bush wear to the 2005 Inaugural Ball? Though surely we had seen the gown before, it had failed to leave a strong impression. After some thoughtful examination, we find that Mrs. Bush's 2005 gown certainly does merit a second look. The silver and blue embroidered tulle sparkler of a dress was far from forgettable. A custom Oscar de la Renta creation, made especially to suit her style, Mrs. Bush's gown radiated a winter mood, with the shimmer of just fallen snow. It was elegant, timeless and perfect for her (and perhaps taking a leap, we get the distinct sense that she felt beautiful wearing it). Without question, it was an exciting departure from the more expected and safe patriotic red Chantilly lace and satin gown by Dallas designer Michael Faircloth, worn for the 2001 Inaugural Ball. 

Also exceptional was Mrs. Bush's ensemble for the 2005 Inaugural Parade. Again wearing Oscar de la Renta, her winter white cashmere embroidered coat (and matching boucle dress) instantly popped against the sea of dark overcoats. In a glowing review of Mrs. Bush's inaugural wardrobe, Robin Givhan of the Washington Post said Mrs. Bush's choice of winter white suggested "a certain chic understanding that restraint can be the most powerful form of expression" - an eloqeunt assessment that may well hold true for Mrs. O come January 20, 2009.


Setting the Tone

Photo used with kind permission from photographer Lauren Victoria Burke/wdcpix.com

Before we get to see Mrs. O in a gown at an inauguration ball on January 20, we will first see her when her husband is sworn into office. Daytime dress for the inauguration ceremony participants is always business formal. Traditionally, the President wears either a morning suit (Ronald Reagan) or a dark business suit (George W. Bush). John F. Kennedy donned the cutaway, but he shrugged off his winter coat for his speech-even though the temperature was a bitter 22 degrees. (He did wear a top hat to the ceremonies, but thereafter he shied away from wearing hats during his administration.) The impression he gave was one of youth and vigor.

Jacqueline Kennedy had been out of the public eye for most of the 1960 campaign because she was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy. So most of the country took their measure of the incoming 32-year-old First Lady on that inauguration day. Her debut was memorable: a fawn colored wool coat tailored with princess seaming and large cloth-covered buttons; underneath there was a matching dress. She wore a matching domed pill box hat. Designed by Oleg Cassini, Mrs. K's outfit ran against the fashion trend of the time, when women wore full length fur coats. Jackie's understated coat sported only a delicate sable ruff around the neck and she carried a small matching fur muff. It was a deliberate and calculated decision on her part, knowing that many other wives on the dais would be wearing full length mink and beaver coats.

"The first impression you got was of a very young woman surrounded by bears," said Oleg Cassini in his memoir A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House. In contrast to others that day, she appeared fresh and exciting. So what kind of impression will Mrs. O make? "The word on the street is she will be wearing Maria Pinto," says Timothy Long, curator of costumes and design at the Chicago History Museum.

With that in mind, we look back at what Maria Pinto designed for Mrs. O the last time she attended an official swearing in ceremony: It was January 2005 when her husband was sworn into the U. S. Senate. With a nod to tradition, Mrs. O wore a matched suit, but a close examination shows the outfit was anything but ordinary. The suit consisted of a form-fitting jacket with inset shoulders and a zippered front plus a pencil skirt, both in a blue, navy, and white windowpane pattern with a dark purple thread running through it. The jacket had a sleek, streamlined feel, almost like an athlete's warm-up top executed in a luxury fabric. Mrs. O played off that body-conscious, sporty look by pairing the suit with Maria Pinto's Saigon blouse design made up in purple charmeuse. While under the jacket, the blouse looks like a beautiful bow-at-the-neck number, but once the jacket is removed the blouse reveals its racer back, the better to show off Mrs. O's toned upper arms. As we learned with Jacqueline Kennedy, a first inaugural impression speaks volumes. It is communication by fashion.

Following that thought, what do Mrs. O's clothes say to us? Her outfit in 2005 speaks of the road ahead, a marathon of unforeseeable challenges, and of her ability to run the course with style, grace, and an acknowledgment of tradition enlivened with her own personal fillip.


Happy Holidays from Mrs. O 

We'd like to send a warm thank you to everyone who's visited Mrs-O.org these past few months and shared in our enthusiasm for Mrs. O's style. 2009 promises to be an exciting year on many fronts. On Mrs-O.org, we plan to kick off the year by introducing several new site initiatives in January. Stay tuned for more! As many of you know, the Obamas are spending Christmas in Hawaii this year. We're conscious not to be too invasive of their private family time, however, we wanted to offer this tasteful account from Time magazine, "Home for the Holidays"


Laurie Munn's First Ladies 


The artist Laurie Munn with her portraits of former First Ladies 

As the saying goes, "Behind every great man, there's a great woman." How fitting then, that Simon Doonan, creative director for Barneys, called on talented artist Laurie Munn to contribute portraits for his timely First Ladies window display for the New York department store this fall. Debuting in late October, the display both rallied the American spirit and inspired a fondness for fedoras all at once. As endearing as the woolly headgear was, the real stars of the show were the beautiful portraits of former First Ladies (including potential 2009 contenders) by New York-based Munn.

We loved her use of brilliant color and fluid strokes, in stark contrast with the typically serious portraits we often see of political figures. For her portrait of Mrs. O, Munn chose October's More magazine cover shot for inspiration. Wearing a punchy pink Maria Pinto sheath for the cover, it was a look that embodied Mrs. O’s signature style: bold colors, body-conscious fit and classic silhouettes. 

Interestingly, there was quite an uproar about Barneys’s implicit political leaning from its window displays - that while Michelle Obama’s portrait was highly flattering, Cindy McCain looked angular and amid shrill laughter. Ultimately, Barneys chose to take down the two portraits in question due to pressure from its sponsors. When we caught up with Munn, she shrugged off the allegations, relaying that she wanted to make all of the women look beautiful. While she found some of the subjects were harder to paint, such as Barbara Bush and Pat Nixon, no political bias was intended.

In the two months that have passed, Mrs. O is of course now set to become our First Lady. When we spoke with Munn, we asked her the question on many of our minds: What should Mrs. O wear for the Inaugural Ball? Munn envisions something sweet and simple, in purple or off-red, perhaps channeling Jackie Kennedy.

A portrait artist by training, Munn's First Ladies series was not her first foray into political art. She had previously completed a series of portraits of former U.S. presidents. In another recent project, Munn painted all 220 students from the 1965 graduating class of Emerson High School in Union City, NJ. She had found the school's yearbook in 1978, tossed aside in a heap of belongings on a Chelsea sidewalk. The series, named "The Altruist" after the yearbook's title, also includes a video that traces Munn's quest to locate and interview the former students.

See all of Munn's brilliant work on her website, lauriemunn.com.

Images used with kind permission from Laurie Munn


Bundled Up Beautifully

Michelle Obama-at Blackbird

Image used with kind permission from Seth Anderson, B12 Solipsism

On December 5, the temperature in Chicago topped out at 18 degrees. So it is no wonder that this glimpse of Mrs. O that day revealed her sporting a casual but winter-ready look. The occasion was a lunch with two friends and she didn’t have far to go as she left the restaurant Blackbird in the West Loop (located around the corner from Maria Pinto’s boutique) and walked to the car driven by the Secret Service.

Yet she showed her Chicago roots as well as her fashion sense in her choices for such bone-chilling weather: an off-white puffer coat and grey yoga pants tucked into blue snow boots. The elegant Mrs. O is fabulous, but this BFF look warms our hearts. Puffer coats are notoriously difficult to wear and it is a rare one indeed that doesn’t make its wearer resemble a Michelin tire figure. But we think Mrs. O looks "casual Friday"- great here. In part, her height helps carry such a coat, even this one with horizontal banding.

But as usual with her, the details are engaging: the built-in waist with a silver buckle provides some figure definition and the distinctive patch pockets add a little flair to the utilitarian coat. We think this puffer, with that nipped waist, resembles some by Moncler or Prada. And the large black tote with the partial chain shoulder strap and turn lock outer compartments is both practical and stylish, calling up memories of handbag designs by Marc Jacobs and Jimmy Choo. But knowing Mrs. O’s penchant for fashion democracy, we would not be surprised if these choices had lower price points. This DKNY coat offers a similar look.

What do you think? Please let us know if you have the answers about the coat or the tote. This got us pondering other winter choices Mrs. O has made. It is hard to be both beautiful and bundled up, but Mrs. O achieved that balancing act when her husband declared his candidacy for President of the United States. Kathleen and Michelle

Photo used with kind permission from Kathleen Miller

It was February 10, 2007, and in spite of frigid temperatures, the launch of the Obama campaign started outdoors, in front of the old State Capital building in Springfield, Illinois. Mrs. O braved the cold weather for her husband’s historic speech by keeping herself warm in a black coat made of a blended alpaca and cashmere material. The coat was by home-town favorite designer Maria Pinto. Light in weight yet incredibly cozy, the wrap coat had a large portrait collar and a self belt, which Mrs. O tied into a Windsor-style knot. Wrapped around her neck was a purple scarf secured at the collarbone by a large crystal brooch—an early glimpse of what would become one of her trademarks. Bracelet-length gloves and a small-brimmed hat in black finished this Mrs. O winter wrap-up.

During a December 2007 visit to Maria Pinto’s studio, we learned that Pinto had made this coat for Mrs. O especially for this occasion. While discussing the details of this coat with Mrs. O, Pinto had asked what coats the two Obama daughters would be wearing to the outdoors presidential campaign announcement. “Michelle said she hadn’t even had time to shop for them yet,” said Pinto, “so I offered to whip up some coats for them, too.” With all the female members of the Obama family facing down the below-zero wind chill in coats designed by Pinto, it was a stylish beginning to the official campaign. Winters in Iowa are even less temperate than those in neighboring Illinois, but once again Mrs. O combined practicality and fashion for campaigning in the first caucus state.

In this photo from the opening of an Iowa campaign office, also in November 2007, we see Mrs. O wearing a black double-breasted coat with square buttons placed at an intriguingly diagonal angle. The large buttons are reminiscent of Mrs. O’s favorite accessory, the brooch, and the raffish banded collar echoes the twist of the buttons.

Michelle at West Des Moines, IA Office Opening 11/29/07

Photo via Flickr user Barack Obama / Creative Commons

The simple elegance of this coat, a boxy style with three quarter length sleeves, calls to mind images of Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years. Yet, at the same time, the kimono sleeves and a hint of an overall cocoon shape make us think of the 1982 “mode japonaise” runway shows in Paris that took the fashion world by storm with works by designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. We also appreciate the punch of cobalt blue peeking out from under the coat. It not only brightens a cold day, but gives the outfit an added depth. In all three looks, there is one consistent note in her winter styles: she wears them with confidence. Now that Mrs. O has her ways of braving the elements down pat, she faces a new fashion challenge: Dealing with the far more temperate climate of Washington DC.