The moment the picture was out it whizzed around the globe appearing on news-stands and websites worldwide. This was major change, a hot talking point, sure to be discussed throughout the day. Mrs.Obama had gone and got a new hairstyle.
Now if this sounds facetious, it is certainly not meant with any disrespect to the First Lady. For a start, I happen to think she wears her new Rhianna-style bob with the style and grace that gives good face. The matter of a star changing their hairstyle has always been headline news since, well, probably since the Polish-born hairdresser Antoine de Paris created the then-revolutionary bob back in 1909. It was the same look that made Louise Brooks an icon of the 1920’s, and gave ‘POSH’ Beckham much-desired trans-Atlantic column inches. But is the wife of the President to the USA a star? Of course she is.
Michelle Obama is now set to be one of the most photographed women on the planet, so the matter of her changing hairstyles is all just part of the territory. Fashion pundits, editorial comment and every Tom, Dick and Jane will now make her sartorial elegance a topic of debate; whether she likes it or not, it goes with the territory. She is not following Jackie O’s every sartorial step, but I bet she gave her some study.
Clothes do not make the man, or indeed the woman, but the role of fashion in today’s society is not to be underestimated. And she knows it. The way that you look and dress is, rightly or wrongly, the first impression that people have of you, and personal style is a great way to express not only who you are but also what you stand for. For the First Lady of a new era in U.S/World Politics, image is an important aspect of her role, one that speaks volumes.
Right from the outset of the campaign trail, Michelle Obama used hers to send out a subtle yet powerful message that perfectly complimented that of her husband – that she is, very much, the “people’s first lady”. She buys clothes from the high-street, buys the family dog from a rescue home, mucks out in soup kitchens and is not afraid to get her hands dirty in the (first ever) White House kitchen garden. She stood in direct contrast to the brash and crass ‘pitbull in lipstick’ Sarah Palin with her $100,000 clothing bill, or the ‘how many houses do we own’ multi-millionaire wealth of Cindy McCain. Here was an intelligent down-to-earth woman you’d want as a friend, and would probably be great to go shopping with. On the night of the inauguration she didn’t choose one of the ‘great’ fashion houses, she chose an unknown designer for her gown that would dance through ten balls, and therefore made it’s creator an overnight sensation.
And it is from here that the game steps up a gear. Personal style is one thing, but upon the world stage, the power of iconography to make waves of social change is not to be underestimated. One need only look at the late Princess Diana to see that. Yes, too much energy was spent commenting on her beauty or troubled personal life, but she also pushed wide open the doors of a long-established class structure. She was rich, she was royal, but she was also seen as one of the people. She rocked centuries of pomp and tradition to the core, and she embraced with a reach envied by any world leader. Inadvertently, in some ways she was, and remains, a statement and a standing that is imperative for a leader who truly wants to be ‘World Class’.
If you think drawing comparisons between Diana and Mrs.O is a little too much, just think back to the recent G20 summit in London: ‘Hug-Gate’. Though a few arms of the old guard might have been thrown up, aghast in horror, at seeing Royal protocol being breached, for the most part people loved seeing Michelle’s arm gently placed around the waist of HM The Queen. It showed a fondness, a warm bond, and it said far more than any posed formal picture ever could. It is perhaps worth mentioning that The Queen has met more leaders in her 56-year reign than any other person alive or dead, that she must be an astute judge of character, and that she readily returned the unprecedented gesture.
At a time of economic crisis, at a time when America and indeed the world needs some hope and reassurance, here came the Obamas stepping up to the mark. They are giving us the audacity of hope, and as is said ‘we like their style’. Of course, it is the action behind the rhetoric that really matters and only time can prove, but right now, looking at the Obamas, and Michelle with her Rhianna-style bob, I’d say it is mighty good to be standing underneath that umbrella ella ella eh eh eh.
Giles Addison – May 2009