First not-a-lady?: Michelle Obama and the arm-showing debacle

By Jessica Huseman

I never thought I’d write a post about fashion for this blog. But, in the world of elections, anything goes. Recently, comments made by a Romney voter to NPR’s Ari Shapiro about Michelle Obama’s fashion choices have gotten me a little confused.

The interviewee, a Mrs. Bobbie Lussier, said, “It’s just she just doesn’t act and look like a first lady. I mean she’s more about showing her arms off.”

Arms?! The horror. She might as well just go topless.

All of this got me thinking: Is Michelle really the first-first lady to bare arms (pun very much intended)?

As it turns out- no. Not even close. Let’s take a back in time to see if Michelle Obama really doesn’t look like a first lady.

Grace Coolidge bears all in a red dress for her official White House portrait. Ooo-la-la.

First up, Grace Coolidge. Truly a popular hostess in the White House, she stayed out of politics and threw some fabulous parties. Most notably, a big bash for Charles Lindbergh after his 1927 fight across the Atlantic. She was regarded as a “real” first lady, contrasting her husbands occasional coldness and business-like persona with warm friendliness.

Her fashion choices were equally as unpretentious, and she’s seen here in a sleeveless (Oh my! All the way back then?) red dress for her official White House Portrait. She was also known to show off a little elbow here and there at major parties and state events – whoa, Nelly.

Jackie Kennedy shown in a (GASP!) entirely sleeveless ballgown. Call Vanity Fair, we obviously have to remove her from the best dressed list.

Who should we talk about next? What about Jackie Kennedy? Always regarded as one of the – if not THE – “best dressed first ladies,” she knew how to show off a little shoulder. Such as this pink number, which – holy smokes – bears her entire shoulder.

This isn’t the only instance of Jackie showing a little more than a wrist. The knee-length sleeveless dresses, so popularized in the 60s during her term, were a favorite of this first lady. Wearing such things to garden parties and official events, she was regarded as a fashion icon – why, then, is Michelle Obama such a fashion disaster? I find myself stumped.

Mamie Eisenhower will obviously stop being a first lady favorite after the world gets whiff that THIS was her inaugural gown.

So, who’s next in the Politically Inclined 360 Mirror? How about Mamie Eisenhower, whose sleeveless and low cut inaugural gown is one of the most popular gowns in the Smithsonian Museum.

She was regarded as an unmistakable first lady. Warm, intelligent and obviously proud of her husband and what he was doing. The Eisenhowers hosted a record number of foreign heads of state, all of whom were elated by Mrs. Eisenhower and her spot on ability to choose the right hors d’oeuvre for the right occasion – her arms didn’t get in the way at all.

Ok. Now for a real zinger. Nancy Reagan.

Put some clothes on, Mrs. Reagan!

Look at this dress (Don’t dresses usually come with more material?! Where is her bolero?! Are you sure this isn’t a toga?!), worn by Mrs. Reagan to her husbands 1981 inaugural ball.

Mrs. Reagan is highly regarded among just about everyone, despite some early criticism for choosing to replace the White House china. She founded the “Just Say No” campaign, and spent the majority of her life fighting the war on drugs in her own way.

Her fashion was also the talk of magazines, including Vogue, who took pictures of her in the gown shown at the right for publication. She was highly regarded as a fashionable woman, and even renovated the White House while she was there to fix years of neglect. Paid for entirely through private donations, Mrs. Reagan fancied up the rooms for the benefit of everyone to follow. But the sleeves! I mean, that’s got to be the deal breaker.

So, then, let’s look at the picture to the left. Michelle Obama‘s inaugural ball gown is shockingly similar to the one Mrs. Reagan chose for the same event almost two decades earlier – yet this dress sparked a boatload of controversy about the two obviously sexual body parts swinging bare by her side.

So, what exactly is everyone’s problem with Michelle Obama? Perhaps, as Mrs. Lussier says, it’s the whole “working out” thing.

She says, “I mean, can you imagine you know, Kennedys or the Bushes or anybody doing push ups on the floor?”

Well, if Mrs. Obama is going to carry on the long and proud tradition of showing off her arms, I sincerely hope she continues to do a few push ups.

Posted by on September 28, 2012. Filed under Elections. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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