What is it about first ladies and travel abroad that excites us so? My initial interest in Jacqueline Kennedy could be summarized by an image of the first lady dressed in an Oleg Cassini apricot silk dress during a boat ride on Lake Pichola in India during March 1962. A print of said image was taped to my dorm room wall throughout college, always offering a sense of wanderlust for a time, place and style I did not know, but felt deeply inspired by. I've wondered how many moments captured this past week, as our First Lady Mrs. O charmed and enchanted India, might also take on a lasting, iconic effect.
The Obamas' recent trip to India and Indonesia represents the highest peak of traffic to this blog since the president and first lady traveled to Europe in April 2009. Prior to this trip, it seemed that public interest in Mrs. O's style had waned to some extent. "If you're tired of hearing about Michelle Obama's style, you're not alone," began a recent BlackBook Magazine story. Though the community here remains strong, the broader public seemed tired of a story that has been told and retold in the American media, most times superficially, to no end. Yet, this past week, in India, the fervor and excitement suddenly returned.
Mrs. O's wardrobe was undoubtedly a focal point of the trip overseas. Ensembles were thoughtfully chosen to suit occasions and mood, from somber to playful, casual to the utmost formal. Designers and aesthetics honored Indian and Indonesian culture, resulting in shining moments for American designers Rachel Roy and Ranjana Khan, both of Indian heritage. A lace tee from J.Crew offered accessibility, while back to back pieces from Belgian designer Dries Van Noten delivered an element of the unexpected. And, of course, there were pride-inducing moments of high glamour, as Mrs. O once again elevated the notion of American sophistication on a global stage.
Ultimately, though, the clothes played second fiddle this time. The moments that endeared and will endure were those when Mrs. O interacted with the children of India. Ballet flats came off for hopscotch; a dress felt less important as Mrs. O danced to Bollywood music. The first lady came to life in these moments, offering a profound display of her genuine nature and ability to galvanize. The clothes tell their own rich narrative, but the real power is in the woman who wears them. This is something we already knew, but never has it been more palpable. I'll leave you with a few favorite photographs taken by White House photographer Pete Souza.
P.S. The title of this post is inspired by Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad, a truly magical children's book.
Official White House Photos by Pete Souza