Style Evolution: Michelle Obama

    The debate about the new First Lady's style choices continues with the release of her official White House portrait. Wearing a simple black dress and classic pearls would seem a safe bet except for the frock's lack of sleeves. Obama's reoccurring arm baring (think the cover of Vogue and the President's speech to Congress) has some calling her youthful and fashion forward while others find the look inappropriate for the office and the season. At StyleList we have to side with youthful and fashion forward. The dress is timeless and flatters one of Obama's best features. As for the First Lady's right to bare arms? It may surprise people to learn Jackie Kennedy wore a sleeveless dress to JFK's first State of the Union speech in 1963. Keep clicking to see Michelle Obama's other sleeveless style moments.

    Joynce N. Boghosian, The White House/AP

    Music legend Stevie Wonder wasn't the only one honored on February 26, 2009, at the White House - his wife, Kai Milla, received major fashion props from Michelle Obama, as the First Lady donned the fashion designer's emerald green silk-chiffon dress. Michelle channeled the 40's with the plunging V-neck dress and a glamorous black sash belt, punctuated by a voluminous bob - which her hair stylist undoubtedly achieved using old school hot rollers. We love how Michelle's really expanding her fashion and beauty reach as she's growing into her role as First Lady.

    The First Lady made waves at President Obama's first Congressional Address on February 24, 2009, in a sleeveless plum silk dress by Narciso Rodriguez. The lack of arm-coverage raised some eyebrows in the fashion world, starting a debate on whether it's appropriate to wear a sleeveless dress to a formal speech. Our take? Washington, we have a problem - it's 2009 and you're acting like it's 1959. Women can wear what they want, when they want to - and we think Michelle looked both stunning and occasion appropriate.

    Not one to change her locks very often, Michelle Obama nearly tricked us on Friday with a fake-out crop. The First Lady pulled back her signature shoulder length tresses, keeping the volume up front but pinning the back up into a flat bun. We like the hair variation, and think it looks glam with the ladylike turtleneck and suit Michelle is sporting.

    Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images | NICHOLAS KAMM,AFP/Getty Images

    The country's new fashion-forward First Lady is stunning as ever for the March cover of Vogue. It was only a matter of time before the stylish Mom in Chief scored face time on the iconic fashion bible -- from the campaign trail to the Oval Office, Michelle's dresses have made headlines nearly as often as her husband's policies. Here she wears Jason Wu, the talented young designer who created her gorgeous inauguration ball gown.

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    Photographer Annie Leibovitz chose to show the professional side of Michelle Obama -- pictured here in a cardigan from J Crew, her staple for sensible style.

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    Overlooking Washington DC from her office at the Hay-Adams Hotel, the First Lady wears a dress by Narciso Rodriguez -- the designer who created the controversial dress she wore on the night her husband was elected president.

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    She claims she's not a natural-born politician. But, when it comes to fashion, America's new First Lady, Michelle Obama, seems to have a strategist's instincts for what will play in Peoria. Her secret lies in knowing how to mix high and low (and we don't just mean her heels). She wears dresses from pricey designers like Isabel Toledo (left), Thakoon and Narciso Rodriguez, whose pieces carry four-figure tabs and are sold in stores like -- yep -- Neiman-Marcus, Barneys and Saks. But she also showed up on the campaign trail wearing designs like the $148 White House-Black Market dress that she chose for "The View" last summer and the J. Crew sweater and skirt that she wore on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," insisting in her best every woman voice, "You can get some good stuff online."


    Michelle Obama looked cool and casual at the Kids' Inaugural concert the night before her husband took the oath of office. Her daughters met their favorite musicians (The Jonas Brothers) and the soon-to-be First Lady pulled out one of her favorite labels: J Crew.

    What will the Obama administration be like? Well, Mrs. O has demonstrated a loyal streak when it comes to her choice of designer duds. Although she was criticized in many corners for the Narcisco Rodriguez dress she wore on Election Night, she wore him again at another high-profile event, the 'We Are One' concert at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2009. This time, the reaction was uniformly positive.

No, Michelle isn't getting involved in some kind of military negotiations -- although she has a great "gun show"! We're talking about the debate swirling over Michelle's predilection for sleeveless attire. With the release of her official portrait, in which she wears a striking, black, tank-style Michael Kors gown, the polemic is reaching a fever pitch.

On the one side we have a more conservative group of folks who are scandalized by her propensity for shoulder-showing styles. They feel that Michelle reveals too much skin, and is disrespectful of the formality of her office.

The other side of the debate are fans of her somewhat retro look. They applaud Michelle for having the style smarts -- and muscle definition -- to focus on one of her best features. They also point out that she's not showing any cleavage, or wearing micro mini skirts.

Speaking of showing off an expanse of bosom, (and to give this discussion a little perspective) there is a great post by Carl Sferrazza at the Huffington Post about the outfits of previous First Ladies. Who knew that Mary Todd Lincoln and Dolley Madison were so daring?

Political Hairdos

    Jackie Kennedy wasn't the first First Lady to spawn copycats. Dolley Madison had armies of 19th century women sticking plumes in their hair; Mamie Eisenhower set off a stampede for short bangs. But ever since Jackie and her trademark flip (and pillbox hat), Washington women have been forced to measure up. Hillary's back-sweep; Sarah Palin's beehive; Michelle Obama's bob -- it's too soon to separate this year's icons from the footnotes, but here's a look at some modern White House hairstyles that, for the last few generations, have been creating buzz.

    Her up-do is the work of the Beehive beauty parlor in tiny Wasilla, Alaska, not some tony salon in New York, but you couldn't tell that by the frenzy over Sarah Palin's twist. For those whose hair won't do the 'do, there's always the Palin wig which are selling like hotcakes for $75 each. From the moment she was chosen to be on the GOP ticket Palin's sexy librarian look has gotten nearly as much press as Posh Spice's bob.

    Robyn Beck, AFP / Getty Images

    When Bill Clinton landed on the national stage, Hillary was at a loss to define her role, and, for eight years, her hairstyles reflected her confusion. Was she a policy wonk? Cookie-baker-in-chief? Defender against the "vast Right Wing conspiracy"? As she tried to sort it out, Hillary became a Rorschach tress-test, morphing from Yuppie lawyer in a headband (shown here during the '92 campaign) to sexy Gennifer Flowers wannabe, prim Rosalynn Carter helpmate and helmet-haired anchor-woman lookalike.

    John Mottern, AFP / Getty Images

    It's hard to know which has been discussed more, Hillary's hair or her pantsuits. What is clear, though, is that, by simplifying both when she ran for the U.S. Senate -- hair, short, blond and swept back; pantsuits, crisp, comfy and monotone -- she finally switched attention from her looks to her words. Well, not entirely. This summer, Presidential candidate Hillary sparked headlines when she moved her part from left to right. Some pundits saw it as ceding her claim to the Democratic nomination. Others said it was nothing more than a (brush) stroke for healthy hair.

    Rich Pedroncelli, AP

    Which twin has the Toni? First Lady Hillary Clinton and Second Tipper Gore may have graduated from the out-of-the-box home perms that were so popular when they were girls, but they sure sported similar big blond bobs (or are they blond blobs?) for the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Florida. Still, their cookie-cutter poufs -- along with broad-shouldered suits, red lips and nearly-invisible gold jewelry -- proved that the wrong look can make even dynamic women dowdy.

    Cynthia Johnson, Getty Images

    Though critics have tried to portray Michelle Obama as a radical in an Angela Davis Afro, her hair owes more to the other end of the '60s -- the non-threatening flip that Mr. Kenneth whipped up for Jackie Kennedy. But if Obama's day-to-day 'dos are brush-and-go, for high-profile events, like the Democratic National Convention, she's enlisted the blow-gun of Frederic Fekkai stylist Johnny Wright, who created a sleek bob.

    Stan Honda, AFP / Getty Images

    In the three decades since she married Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Jill Biden has worn her hair soft, blond and shoulder-length, a look that seems to work effortlessly for a life split between being a Senator's wife and a college professor. She must be doing something right: She earned a 6.0 on her "hotness total."

    Ted S. Warren, AP

    Cindy McCain long ago abandoned the short pixie crop she sported in 2000, when her husband first ran for President. But her long hair has generated almost as much buzz as the $3,000 Oscar de la Renta dress (shown here) that she wore to the Republican National Convention. To fans, the long wispy bangs give the 54-year-old a youthful air. Detractors, however, say it's time for Cindy to shake off the standard-issue Republican 'do for something more chic than cliche.

    Alex Wong, Getty Images

    No one is ever going to confuse Laura Bush with a fashion queen, but that's not to say that she's the same drab librarian who came onto the political scene when her father-in-law was in the White House. Gone is the helmet-head that she admits her daughters cajoled her out of. In its place, a style that is softer with more highlights. Still, hers is an iconic look. Asked recently for the secret to playing a believable Republican first lady, Elizabeth Banks, who portrays Mrs. Bush in "W," the new Oliver Stone film, said, "It's all about the hair."

    Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

    Americans first got to know Chelsea Clinton in 1992 as the awkward 12-year-old with untamed strawberry blond curls, the first First Daughter to go through adolescence in the unforgiving eye of modern media.

    Denis Paquin, AP

Inaugural Style

    The Inaugural speech may set the agenda for a Presidential administration, but the Inaugural wardrobe sets the tone. Think of Mamie Eisenhower's exuberant pink frocks in the can-do post-War '50s; Rosalynnn Carter's recycled gown in the down-in-the-dumps '70s, Jackie Kennedy regalness in the everything-is-possible '60s. And Michelle Obama's citrus daytime sheath from Isabel Toledo and light-as-air Jason Wu evening gown in fresh-start 2009. "I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine," said Toledo, who created the day outfit. Click back on the revealing (and mostly red, white or blue) Inauguration choices of America's modern First Ladies to see how Michelle's choices stack up.

    At the Inaugural Balls, the first couple twirled to the song "At Last," which resonated on many levels – at last Obama's two-year quest for the White House has ended with his swearing-in; at last America has overcome its racial divide; at last we have a First Lady who's not afraid to take fashion risks. No Oscar de la Renta here, Michelle Obama has made it clear that she'll use her new visibility to highlight younger, edgier American designers, and her Inaugural Ball gown underscored the point. The one-shoulder dress was made by 26-year-old designer Jason Wu, who found out the First Lady had chosen his gauzy creation when he saw her on television. Asked in December whether he might be an Inauguration Night contender, he shrugged it off. "Oh, that's a long shot," he said. Now, as with most Inaugural gowns, Wu's dress will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution's century-old First Ladies Collection. Clearly, with Michelle Obama at America's fashion helm, nothing is a long shot anymore.

    Michelle Obama's swearing-in outfit looked like spun gold, but it was actually a lemongrass-colored wool lace coat and dress by Isabel Toldeo, with a cardigan and scarf to fend off the Inauguration Day chill. But besides the dress's touch of formality, what was most surprising about the pick was that it wasn't the work of old-line White House favorites (Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren) or of better-known young designers (say, Narciso Rodriguez or Tracy Reese). Perhaps Mrs. Obama, like her husband, is signaling us to expect the unexpected. Toledo, after all, is a Cuban-American, with 30 years on Seventh Avenue, an avant garde reputation and very little name recognition: She doesn't advertise, she doesn't stage massive runway extravaganzas, and she's sold at just a handful of stores, like Barneys New York (which sent out a "We Love Isabel Toledo" email to customers the day after the Inauguration) and Ikram in Chicago (where Michelle shops). Red carpet? Toledo is hardly a fixture -- but we're willing to bet that, by Oscar time, all those pretty-young-Hollywood-things will be clamoring to wear clothes.

    Getty Images

    Just as the outfit was an unexpected shade of is-it-yellow-or-is-it-green, so were Michelle Obama's accessories a pleasant jolt. Her olive green gloves were from J. Crew, while her olive pumps were a tad more upscale -- Jimmy Choo's "Glacier" kitten heels.

    The biggest shock of the 2000 Presidential election was, of course, that it took the U.S. Supreme Court to decide it. The second-biggest shock: that Laura Bush -- after two decades in one of America's shrewdest political families -- would wear such a dowdy ensemb to George's first Inaugural. Instead of bringing in one of Seventh Avenue's big guns -- Arnold Scassi primped up Barbara Bush's style -- Laura chose Michael Faircloth, a little-known Dallas designer who had been turning out her safe (and sorry) public-appearance clothes back to the 1999 Texas inaugural.

    Before his stint dressing Laura, Michael Faircloth's claim to design fame was creating outfits for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, so perhaps it's not surprising that his Inaugural gown was all about fireworks. Though Mrs. Bush preferred a tad more coverage than the pom-pom girls, her satin and lace gown, laden with Austrian crystals, was far too matronly for a 55-year-old -- even a 55-year-old ex-librarian. br/>

    Is it any wonder that Oscar de la Renta has become something of a house designer for modern White House occupants? After earning his Washington stripes (and stars) transforming Hillary Clinton, he was tapped by Laura Bush for the 2005 Inaugural. The results: different party, same polish. For Bush II, de la Renta turned country-club Laura into a D.C. swan with a delicately beaded ice-blue gown that accented her curvy body and creamy skin.

    Chic, simple and with a hemline that flattered, Mrs. Bush's 2005 oath-of-office outfit was a stand-out winter-white coat and dress by Oscar de la Renta. However, it took a village to dress the Bush clan for all the events: Carolina Herrera made a taffeta shirtwaist for the hot-ticket Black-Tie-And-Boots gala; Peggy Jennings created a crystal column for the Candlelight Dinners, and Badgley Mischka turned twins Jenna and Barbara into saucy but sexy First Daughters.

    Even before Hillary Clinton got to Washington, she (and her ubiquitous headbands) made it clear that fashion was not at the top of her agenda. And how. Her 1993 Inaugural designers were a raft of Arkansans who earned unanimous not-ready-for-prime-time reviews. Her first transgression: the dizzying plaid suit by Connie Fails for the swearing-in. Bad enough that it violated every keep-it-simple rule, but Hillary topped off the outfit with a decidedly un-Jackie chapeau that many compared to a flying saucer.

    If she had known that Inauguration Day would be a metaphor for her early years as First Lady, Hillary Clinton might have re-thought her gown. For her highest-profile star turn, she chose an overwrought crystal-covered confection by Arkansas designer Sarah Phillips, done in a shade of purple last seen lining the royal family's robes. It got more pans than her health care plan.

Sexy Stars in their 60s

    Vacationing with her husband on Saint Barths, 62-year-old Soap star Susan Lucci showed off her fabulous bod in this itsy-bitsy green bikini.
    Do you love Lucci? See her strut her stuff on the Heart Truth catwalk.


    The one and only Grace Jones took to the stage at Camden's Roundhouse in London and wowed the crowed with both performance and her bod! Now 60-years-old, the former model and Andy Warhol muse still has to die for legs and a sense of style all her own.

    Ben Yacobi /

    Once the princess of punk, Debbie Harry, at 63, is now the embodiment of Baby Boom chic. Of course, no matter how (um) old she gets, the Blondie front-woman will still rock out and will never give up her signature yellow mane.

    Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

    Taking a dip during her Hawaiian vacation Goldie Hawn looked sexy and much younger than her 63 years.

    Fame Pictures

    Helen Mirren has played a royal so often that she could probably take over for a real one, but she apparently hasn't got a bit of the Queen's stuffiness. The Academy Award-winner has been everyone from a naked housewife (in "Calendar Girls") to a tough-as-nails detective (in "Prime Suspect"), and even at 63, is confident enough to let herself be photographed in a teeny red bathing suit.

    starsurf / Splash News

    Don't call her granny, gray-haired or anything that even hints that she's something less than fab. At 69, Tina Turner still has a great growl, glorious gams and gyrations that could kill. And the singer shown during her 50th Anniversary tour at Madison Square Garden is not alone. Click on for more stars who just keep on rollin' well into their 60s.

    It's hard to say if Mia Farrow is better known as an actress (everything from "Rosemary's Baby" to a baker's dozen Woody Allen films) or her spectacular romances (marriages to Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, and a fabulously sordid split with Allen). Still, at 63, the single mother-of-14 shown at Hong Kong International Airport is so burrowed in humanitarian work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and an activist against the genocide in Darfur, that Time named her one of 2008's 100 most influential people.

    Andrew Ross , AFP/Getty Images

    The most successful female recording artist ever 18 No. 1 hits in the U.S., 70 Top-10 hits since 1964 the 64-year-old Diana Ross is still supremely cool. In 2007, she had the finalists on "American Idol" rocking her songs. In 2008, she not only captured a BET Lifetime Achievement Award presented by her five kids and Stevie Wonder but she also headlined at Radio City Music Hall in "Divas with Heart."

    Larry Marano, Getty Images

    She was immortalized as the delicately beautiful Lara in the 1965 romance, "Dr. Zhivago," and in the nearly 45 years since, Julie Christie shown here at the 2008 Academy Awards -- has clearly lost none of her allure. The It-girl of her generation, she's kept a lower profile in recent years, making only a handful of movies 2005's "Away From Her" won raves for her haunting portrait of a woman lost to Alzheimers and in 2007, at 66, marrying for the first time.

    Lester Cohen, Getty Images

    Ever since she appeared in "One Million Years B.C." clad in a ripped-to-tatters bikini, Raquel Welch has been the embodiment of raw sexiness. And, at 68, it doesn't look like she's lost her groove. These days, though, she wears suits more than bikinis, running a business that's included everything from fitness videos to wig collections to QVC jewelry. She's even served as a face for MAC's "Beauty Icons" line.

    Tony Barson, WireImage