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Michelle Obama and the Power of Style

by Kate Betts

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59143-2
Publisher: Clarkson Potter

A scintillating fashion biography of Michelle Obama’s inimitable style and its far-reaching influence.

Former Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief and current Time contributor Betts focuses on how the First Lady’s style has helped her achieve such iconic status. Brimming with more than 200 color photographs, the book demonstrates how Obama has repeatedly pushed the envelope of fashion and convention. Changing from couture by lesser-known designers to Chucks and a cardigan without batting an eye, Obama presents herself in a way that is at once both trendsetting and common. Beyond the analysis of her uncannily self-possessed style, Betts provides an intriguing contextualization of Obama within the historical framework of other groundbreaking First Ladies—Dolley Madison, Mary Todd Lincoln, Grace Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie O, Hillary Clinton—as well as within the current postfeminist moment in American culture. In a country founded on the joint values of relative equality and freedom to celebrate individuality, the question of how one chooses to dress has always taken on a political charge. In the role of the president’s wife, Betts argues, those comfortable with their own style have made the greatest impact. For Obama, who was thrust even more under the microscope as the first African-American First Lady, her conduct carries global influence but especially hits home with American women. “It’s almost as if she is taking Hillary Clinton’s intelligence but dressing it in Jackie Kennedy’s clothes,” writes Betts. “In many ways she is reshaping the feminist dream, correcting its oversights, compensating for its defects.” Though her argument rests on a number of dichotomies—fashion vs. style, style vs. substance—and the author clearly champions her subject, her book should have widespread appeal.

A sharp, lavishly illustrated biography of one of the most influential figures in refashioning the roles of women.