This is a bit old, but I've been drowning at work and just caught up, courtesy of The Great Orange Satan.
It's the dog days of summer and the Village has a longstanding tradition of letting Washington's summer weather bake their brains stupid. By August you know the WaPo's offerings will have all the nuance and nutritional value of Wonder Bread. Robin Givhan doesn't disappoint and last weekend decided that Michelle Obama wearing shorts was a good excuse for a dissertation on the dos and don'ts of first lady fashion:
The noteworthy aspect of Obama's ensemble is that in recent history, first ladies have rarely dressed so informally in public, particularly as they are emerging from Air Force One while a phalanx of photographers stands ready to record the moment. This exclusive group of women might have dressed in a relaxed manner -- khakis or jeans, for instance -- but it was always in a way that suggested that they were keenly aware of the ever-present cameras. None of them revealed as much leg as the current first lady, either
There are a few other "noteworthy" considerations that Givhans has chosen to overlook in her haste to join the tut-tut chorus:
One has to travel all the way back to Jackie Kennedy to find a member of "this exclusive group of women" who was younger than Michelle Obama at her husband's inauguration. Clothing styles that are perfectly appropriate on the 45 year old Michelle Obama would have been patently absurd on the 60 YO Nancy Reagan. Granted, Hilary Clinton was only a year older at Bill's first inaugural, but nobody ever thought of Hilary as a young, hip style icon.
Which brings us to consideration #2:
There have only been three first ladies in the last 50 years that were considered to be fashion icons - Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan (I know -- but both the fashion press and the Village were in full-on swoon mode over her designer wardrobe back in the day) and Michelle Obama. Fashion icons always have more leeway in their choices than do frumpy hausfraus like Laura Bush or Pat Nixon.
Finally, I'm not sure where Givhan has been living the last fifty years but she's apparently not noticed that FASHIONS HAVE CHANGED!! Comparing the fashion choices of someone like Betty Ford and Michelle Obama is like comparing the computing power of UNIVAC and a MacBook. Jackie kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon didn't leave the house without wearing a hat and gloves. When Nancy Reagan's husband was President, I couldn't show up at my office in a pantsuit. Today pantyhose are -- thank you baby jeebus! -- going the way of the dodobird and the girdle. Bare legs in the executive suite are no longer a fashion taboo...much less on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Then Robin gets phisophical:
clothes are part of our broader aesthetic obligation to each other. That commitment pushes homeowners to mow their lawns and not be a blight to the neighborhood. It makes them think twice before painting their houses in psychedelic stripes. The desire to be aesthetically respectful means guests give consideration to what they wear to a friend's wedding or mourners take care in how they dress for a loved one's funeral...
...or bored fashion writers give consideration to what would be appropriate dress for "a family outing when her itinerary includes hiking around the rim of the Grand Canyon on a hot summer day?"
Just a thought.