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The first lady's signature fashion elements

January 19, 2013|Booth Moore | Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
  • First lady Michelle Obama has used belts to enhance the fit 'n' flare silhouette of her clothing.
First lady Michelle Obama has used belts to enhance the fit 'n'… (Charles Dharapak, Associated…)

Since Michelle Obama and her kitten heels first stepped onto the national stage five years ago, the keys to her personal dress code have remained remarkably consistent. Pearls, cardigans and brooches are all components of the first lady's look. Conservative relics of an old world Washington wardrobe? Not the way Obama interprets them, always adding her own twist. Here are a few of her most influential style signatures.

—Booth Moore


Obama breathed new life into the most traditional of heirloom accessories by choosing updated interpretations of the classic pearl necklace, which have included the edgy (tangled strands of blue-tone pearls by L.A.-based designer Tom Binns worn with a Marchesa gown to a state dinner in March), as well as the affordable (the $98 multicolored Torsade necklace by Pearl Collective worn several times, including in June on the campaign trail).


Obama has used belts to enhance the fit 'n' flare silhouette of her clothing and to accent her small waist. Two of her favorites are a clear plastic belt by Sonia Rykiel and a studded black belt by Azzedine Alaia.

Daring nail polish

She's worn her fair share of understated pale pink polish but has also tried more daring colors, giving women of all ages permission to do the same without fear of not being taken seriously. The gray-lilac nail color Obama wore while giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention in September sparked a flurry of news stories — and a trend. The color was Artistic Nail Design Soak Off Colour Gloss' Vogue. Obama made headlines with her polish again in December, when she chose a neon yellow pedicure for her Hawaiian vacation.


Brooches are no longer an old lady accessory, thanks to Obama, who has treated them in a casual, modern way. For a state dinner preview in March 2012, for example, she wore an elaborate Saloni bird brooch clipped to the neckline of a simple pale gray Zac Posen tank dress with navy blue waistband. The brooch was just what she needed to tie the whole outfit together.


Obama replaced the traditional uniform of Washington power women — the jacket — with soft cardigans, proving that femininity can also be powerful. She has worn cardigans in every color of the rainbow, in shrugs, cropped and long lengths. Among the notables are the sparkly sequin cream

J. Crew cardigan worn with a mint-green pencil skirt to 10 Downing Street in 2009 and the avant-garde Junya Watanabe asymmetrical argyle cardigan worn to the Royal Opera House on the same London trip.

White gowns

Some wondered whether the Jason Wu white chiffon, one-shoulder gown Obama chose for the 2009 inauguration was better suited to a summer wedding than a wintertime Washington ball. But the dress worked as a potent symbol of a fairy tale moment and kicked off a trend in Hollywood and beyond. At the Golden Globes last Sunday, for instance, several stars, including Julianne Hough and Amanda Seyfried, walked the red carpet in white. Obama repeated the white-at-night look in 2011, wearing a Tom Ford gown with crisscross straps and long white gloves to dinner at Buckingham Palace.

Kitten heels

Not one to be held hostage by shoe trends — or to hobble around in too-high heels — Obama has stuck with her tried-and-true kitten heels by J. Crew and Jimmy Choo. The lesson? Following the whims of fashion should be secondary to what works for you.

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