Is Fashion Becoming More Diverse Because Of Michelle Obama?

Paul Harris wrote a piece for Sunday’s Guardian titled “America’s New Vogue For Black Fashion Is All Due To Michelle Obama.” But that’s not right, is it?

While it’s true that Vogue put three black women on the cover in the last three months — after years of being dominated by white faces — do we really have Michelle Obama to thank?

Harris writes:

There is little doubt that she is the biggest political icon to hit the fashion industry since Jackie Onassis. Her face stares from magazine covers, her favoured designers become overnight sensations and the clothes she wears often sell out in the shops as soon as she is seen in them. […] Fashion houses and their models can influence the way millions of Americans think, act and feel about themselves. That can be for ill – with the modern obsession with thinness. Or it can be for good – in the shape of Michelle. A black woman – and also a well-built, professional, educated, older woman – is staring out from the magazine stands and asking Americans to be like her.

There’s no question that people are obsessed with Michelle Obama — her clothes, her smarts, her arms. There’s even a site called Mrs. O, dedicated to following the First Lady’s fashion. But the question is whether she is influencing magazines, or if there has been a sea change in the air? In the fall of 2007, model mogul Bethann Hardison held a “conversation” about the lack of black models on the fashion runways. She called the process “a slow tsunami.” In July of 2008, Italian Vogue‘s “All Black” issue hit stands. This was four months before the election, and back then, Michelle was not quite the icon she is now — in fact, she’d gotten some flak for not being “proud” of her country and there were rumors that she’d called someone “whitey.” Clearly, it’s all about how you spin it.

Rachel Shields wrote a story for Sunday’s Telegraph, in which she argues: “The fashion world is changing its formula, embracing diversity and celebrating a more natural approach to beauty.” She notes the three black women on the covers of Vogue as well as the make-up-free issue of French Elle. Shields writes: “The magazines appear to be joining a backlash against Photoshopped, cosmetically enhanced and unrepresentative images that have dominated the fashion industry and moving towards a more natural, realistic aesthetic.” And the Guardian‘s Harris spoke to BJ Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based sociologist and author, who claims: “The election of a black president, and his wife’s enormous popularity, are both part of the same cultural shift. America is changing from a culture of assimilation to a culture of pluralism.” So perhaps Michelle Obama is not the genesis of this movement but one of the touchstones — or milestones — along the way. Towards a future with a more inclusive fashion industry, more diversity in media and advertising? Bethann Hardison spoke with the Guardian, saying she’s not sure where the “Obama revolution” is leading us: “I am sure all these fashion designers voted for Obama but they still have a lily-white roster of models… Talk to me in two years. We’ll see what happens when the dust settles down.” But a story in the Washington Post may hint at what the future holds: instead of Miley, Britney or Zac, tween girls are obsessed with Sasha and Malia Obama.

“Sometimes I go up to my room and I just think, ‘I want to meet them, I want to meet them, I want to meet them,’ ” says a desperate Sophie Metee, a fourth-grader at Wood Acres Elementary in Bethesda. “My main, main, main, main, main goal is to meet the girls — the Obama girls. Then the Jonas Brothers.”

America’s New Vogue For Black Fashion Is All Due To Michelle Obama [Guardian]
Fashion Flirts With ‘Real’ Women [Independent]
Move Over, Miley. In Washington, The Obama Girls Are the Latest Craze. [Washington Post]
Related: Mrs. O

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