Meeee-ouch, Girlfriend!!!

Grim's Hall Fashion Week

Oh yeah. While Grim's away, the mice will play...

Yikes. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

If Michelle Obama's such a great dresser, what was she doing in this red butcher's apron?

At no time would what she wore be more significant than on the night of November 4 2008, when, win or lose, the eyes of the world would be upon the Obama family as the four of them processed on to the stage in Grant Park, Chicago. If Michelle had dressed herself and her daughters for defeat, she could hardly have chosen anything more saturnine. Seven-year-old Sasha was dressed from head to foot in black: black dress, black hose, black shoes. Ten-year-old Malia was just as black about the legs, but her dress was blood-red. Any colour is better than pink, but these robust choices hardly strike one as girly. The girls' odd outfits were clearly chosen as foils to their mother's dress, which was all black with an eye-burning red panel that splattered itself down the front like a geometrical haemorrhage, held in by a criss-cross sash of black.

The red extended upwards almost to the neckline, and downwards to mid-thigh,
petering out top and bottom in a sort of cast-off splatter. The effect of the strong contrast was to turn a mere frock into a poster in the most disturbing colours known to man, the colours of chaos. The juxtaposition of a rectangle of red on a black field is what we might expect to find on a flag or a shield. Coral snakes and venomous spiders signal their destructive potential by the display of similarly violent contrasts.

For several years, Michelle has been listed among the world's best-dressed people. In the 69th poll run by Vanity Fair to establish the International Best Dressed list for this year, she came top of the women. There is no possibility that her choice of election-night dress reflected mere inadvertence - because in a presidential campaign, nothing is left to chance. Even her decision to wear dresses - as distinct from suits, whether with pants or skirts - was calculated to foreground her femininity. Her kitten heels make sure that her bigger head never out-tops her husband's. Curiously, at the same time as the fashion press is lauding her relationships with designers, Michelle has been at pains to emphasise that she shops downmarket. In June, when she was invited to guest-host an NBC talk show, she chose a Donna Ricco black and white "tank leaf print dress" in stretch cotton sateen, which sold off the peg in selected boutiques for $148 and online for a mere $99. Within a day, the dress had sold out and women were queueing up to place orders for the reissue. In October, Michelle told Jay Leno that the three-piece yellow ensemble she was wearing on his show was from J Crew (total cost about $450).

Historically, Michelle was much less likely to be seen wearing Donna Ricco or J Crew. The purple silk sheath dress that she teamed with a black Azzedine Alaïa belt for her appearance at her husband's side when he won the Democratic nomination was by Chicago-based Maria Pinto. That dress earned universal praise for its elegance, boldness and simplicity, though some jibbed at its sleevelessness.

For election night, Michelle went further upmarket. Her sensational dress was designed by Narciso Rodriguez for his next spring/summer collection. The original is at least eight inches shorter than the Obama version, and the neckline a good six inches lower. The splash of red, rather than pouring halfway down the thigh, ends above the crotch and extends from hip to hip, with a small flare on each breast, avoiding entirely the butcher's apron effect. The Grant Park version of this cute and sexy dress was a travesty.

Rodriguez is saying nothing. We may never know if he agreed to wreck his design by customising it for Michelle - or how he felt when he saw that she was wearing it with a black cardigan. The Obama organisation used to be proud to tell us that Michelle doesn't have a stylist. I bet she does now.

This is just bizarre. Right after the election I thought - for about a second - of commenting on the future First Lady's choice of dress. When I first saw it I was a bit surprised because it evoked the image of a black widow spider so strongly that I was momentarily shocked.

When I saw the original design on Wonkette, however, all I could think was, "Haven't we seen enough ugliness in this campaign?"

I thought the Obama girls looked just lovely. Although I'm not sure I would have chosen those colors, the stores are full of little girls' dresses in black and red these days. Times have changed and it seems odd to expect the Obamas to act differently from the rest of America. This is the culture most people embrace. As everyone keeps reminding us, "This isn't a conservative country anymore." OK. Got it. So why all the criticism from the left and from feminists? Too "edgy"? It's not as though the girls were dressed like Britney Spears - they looked very demure and ladylike. Reading all sorts of dire omens into her choices seems a bit much, and taking snide potshots at two little girls just seems beyond the pale.

I happen to like clothes, rather a lot. I pay attention to fashion on other people, but I was always taught that it was the height of bad manners to make snide comments about the way other people look or dress. Consequently, I can't imagine what makes people think it's acceptable to take swipes at the future first family. Words can still wound, and people don't stop being human beings when they step into public life.

I don't understand where this idea that being trashed goes with the territory came from? I didn't like this sort of thing when it was done to Chief Justice Roberts, and I took exception to it. I didn't like when it was done to the Bushes. I find that despite my political opposition to Senator Obama, I don't much care for people who want to go picnicking on his family.

But maybe that's just me.

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