The Fashion Laws Of Politics: Obama-Style

Politicians aren't known for their cutting-edge fashion sense and most First Ladies have leaned more towards traditional, conservative styles. But future First Lady Michelle Obama might just be an exception to the usual blandness of Washington fashion. Whether you love or hate her style, she's certainly making waves.

Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan, celebrity hairstylist Anthony Dickey and historian Catherine Allgor discuss the unique fashion sense of the country's next leading lady, and whether some scrutiny of Michelle Obama is unfair.

What Is She Wearing? Fashion Laws Of Politics

Michelle and Barack Obama. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images i i

Michelle Obama, with husband Barack Obama in Chicago on June 3, is sometimes known to infuse lively colors with classic pearls. Getty Images hide caption

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Michelle and Barack Obama. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Michelle Obama, with husband Barack Obama in Chicago on June 3, is sometimes known to infuse lively colors with classic pearls.

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Cindy and John McCain. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images. i i

Cindy McCain, with husband John McCain in Mexico City on July 2, is known for her tailored suits and designer jewelry. Getty Images hide caption

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Cindy and John McCain. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images.

Cindy McCain, with husband John McCain in Mexico City on July 2, is known for her tailored suits and designer jewelry.

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Hillary Clinton wardrobe lighting test

Wardrobe pieces are checked against stage lighting before Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on August 26. Getty Images hide caption

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Sarah Palin. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images. i i

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 10, spruces up her classic black ensemble with red pumps. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
Sarah Palin. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 10, spruces up her classic black ensemble with red pumps.

Getty Images

Take a tour from first lady Mary Lincoln to the current first lady hopefuls. Learn how presidential wives managed to recycle a gown, inspire a doll and defuse catty critics among other style feats. hide caption

Lessons In First Lady Fashion
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Participants in this year's Fashion Week, now under way in New York, have to share a bit of the spotlight with a smaller group of trendsetters being closely judged for their own sense of style: women in the political forefront.

In a presidential election season, Americans are not only scrutinizing the candidates for their positions on such issues as the economy. There are also strong opinions forming, among voters and in the blogosphere, about the sense of fashion embraced by the candidates' wives, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain.

"We've always looked at what first ladies-to-be, or first ladies, wear," says Marjorie Margolies, a former lawmaker who now helps women prepare for leadership roles in politics and advocacy. "It's just part of the game. Women are viewed in a very different way, with regard to their dress, than men are."

And as their husbands pursue their respective bids for the presidency, the fashion spotlight is not only beaming down on Obama and McCain.

"In this particular [election] year, you have all these women [at the forefront] who are really interested in fashion," explains Teri Agins, a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Agins and Margolies acknowledge other players in this election's political fashion game, such as Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former Democratic presidential candidate and former first lady Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Jill Biden, wife of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden.

When asked if so much focus on the exterior of prominent women in this year's presidential race hints of sexism, Margolies seems to think so, but defends it as the way of society.

"Women really are the ones who still have the burden of getting up in the morning and putting something on that is, for whatever reason, responsible," she says.

Fashion Tips For Obama And McCain

As campaigns step up their push to appeal to voters, especially women, Agins and Margolies have some advice for the Illinois and Arizona senators' wives.

"Wear color," says Agins, advocating that the women stay away from dark suits. "And [wear clothes with] a good neckline."

"Bring back the pearls," says Margolies. But she cautions the wives to stay away from the "bling." Flashy clothes and accessories could be seen as pretentious, potentially blinding voters from embracing their message.

"Most people remember what you wear and your tone over what you say," Margolies says.

Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.

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