Obamas may bring new fashion sense to White House

NEW YORK (AP) - November 5, 2008 The Obama family took the stage in Chicago Tuesday night in color-coordinated outfits, all with touches of red or black.

For Michelle Obama, no stuffy suits or demure pastels here: Instead she wore a striking red-and-black dress designed by well-regarded, but not-so-mainstream, Narciso Rodriguez.

President-elect Barack Obama wore the same style dark-navy suit custom-made by Hart Schaffner Marx that he wore at the Democratic Convention, the company says, accompanied with a deep red, striped necktie.

Older daughter Malia wore a red bubble-hem dress, while the younger Sasha wore a black dress with an oversized bow on the front.

Together, they made a pleasing picture of coordination and confidence, style-watchers say.

"One of the things about Michelle and Barack is that they have classic American style," said Pamela Fiori, editor in chief of Town & Country.

"I hope as they move into the White House, they'll continue that and dress in a lot of American designers - it certainly has been the case so far. She says on TV that she's wearing an outfit from J.Crew," she said. "You have to appreciate her honesty and sense of style."

Michelle Obama also has worn some relatively new names on the fashion scene, including Thakoon Panichgul and Maria Pinto. She also wore an off-the-rack style by White House Black Market on "The View."

"You know what I think is amazing? She likes fashion but she doesn't really let fashion wear her," observed Adam Glassman, creative director at Oprah magazine.

(Longtime Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey, attending the Obama victory party in Grant Park, wore a long green Agnona tunic that ties at the waist.) "She (Michelle Obama) is incredibly democratic when it comes to fashion. She doesn't just do the old guard, she represents the new," he added.

The straight-from-the-runway Rodriguez dress highlighted both her attractive figure and her savvy sense of style, Glassman said. He also said he thinks she - not a stylist - is calling the shots about her look.

It's worth noting, especially amid all the comparisons to the Obamas and Kennedys that Rodriguez also designed the wedding dress that Caroline Bessette wore at her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr. That could be a coincidence, said Bridget Foley, executive editor of W magazine and Women's Wear Daily, but it's fodder to fuel further connections.

The sheath-dress silhouette that Jackie made famous is indeed a favorite of Michelle Obama's, albeit a more modern version.

"She took a dress shape she looks great in - a curvy sheath, but she still makes a powerful visual statement. She wants to project a bold image ... but it's not over the top wild," Foley said.

As for the new president's two-button suit, it is a classic power suit, says Homi Patel, chairman and CEO of parent company Hart Marx. "It's strong, navy and it does make you look powerful, but what makes it presidential is the man in it."

But if fashion insiders applauded the Election-night look, many bloggers called in the fashion police.

Yuli Ziv, co-founder of the user-generated online fashion magazine Myitthings.com, gave Michelle Obama points for not wearing a suit, but she also thought the dress was unflattering. "It accentuated some parts of the body I would try not to enhance," Ziv told the AP.

A posting on "The Dish Rag," an online component of the Los Angeles Times, called it a "bizarre dress that looked more like a Halloween costume than an election night frock."

But eveyone seemed to love the children.

"I love how Barack and Michelle's beautiful daughters matched - a perfect complement," said designer Zac Posen.

Town & Country's Fiori thinks the Obama family will help usher in an era of more refined dress. "Obama has taken to task the style of young boys who let their pants hang low and let their underwear show," she said. "I think we're all going to dress better and speak better and behave a lot better than we have in the past."

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