Was that a $5,000 VBH alligator clutch that Michelle Obama was carrying in Italy? So the company bragged, absolutely certain it was theirs, until the White House responded that it was not the alligator but the patent, an $875 VBH clutch and not the more expensive model.
To be honest, I didn’t even know what VBH was until I saw the headlines about the $5,000 one the first lady wasn’t carrying. I love handbags as much as the next girl, but I could never get my head around the idea of spending that kind of money on something that is bound to end up with ink stains. But if Michelle wants to spend hers, more power to her. If she wants to wear $540 sneakers (Lanvin, a “cult” item that is bound to end up in one of my local resale stores), I say go for it.
She is not going to solve the recession by wearing Keds. She wears enough clothes from the Gap and J.Crew to make the point that looking great doesn’t have to be uber-expensive (although the things she manages to find at those places never seem to be there when I am), and that half the fun of fashion is figuring out how to copy high style for less.
What Michelle Obama projects, with her bright colors, body-conscious clothes and keen sense of style, is a woman at her best, looking great, feeling great, being great, full of life, celebrating her country and her family and, yes, herself. The White House was quick to say the bag didn’t cost $5,000, but it was still what my mother would have called a very, very good bag, and the first lady didn’t apologize for that. Why should she?
She’s not 22. She’s a grown woman who hasn’t faded to beige or placed herself in the background, who isn’t embarrassed that she doesn’t look 17, who (by all reports) doesn’t hate her hips or hide her rear or ask whether the dress makes her look fat before she lets herself like it.
If that isn’t a role model, what is?
The other day, I ran into a woman I know who has done very well professionally. I hadn’t seen her in awhile, and somehow I was taken aback. She looked the way she always had, only worse. I laugh when I see young women trying so (too) hard, because the truth is that when you’re young, it’s easy. The woman I ran into got to where she is, at least in part, by not getting trapped by the beauty thing.
On the other hand, she was long past the point where she needed to use or hide her sexuality. Now middle-aged, she has become one of those women that other women can’t look at for five minutes without wanting to do a makeover and wondering why she hasn’t. Is she really happy this way? More power to her, but I want younger women to know it doesn’t have to be that way.
Michelle is middle-aged, too. You can be powerful and beautiful. You can be passionate about politics and clutch bags; you can do your best for your country and look your best while you do. You deserve the sneakers — if not the Lanvin ones, then ones that make you feel just as good. And we should all ditch black for yellow. Especially in a recession.
— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.