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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

A Passion for Fashion: First Ladies & Fashion

This Sarah Jane Design was a challenging college project requiring Walls to use one piece of fabric,
This Sarah Jane Design was a challenging college project requiring Walls to use one piece of fabric, "no cut-outs for the neck or armholes," she explains.
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Bringing a Youthful Style Back to the White House

By Angela Wampler | February 23, 2009

A lot of people are saying First Lady Michelle Obama is bringing style back into fashion — she has "a chic, youthful style, mixing chain store garments with edgy designers." What are your thoughts on this? And what do you think about her wearing an evening gown by Jason Wu, a 26-year-old "unknown" fashion designer to the inaugural balls?

STEWART: Style for the woman of today!! Finally — a woman in a position to relate fashion to the average woman and she does it beautifully. Isabel Toledo [who designed the yellow outfit that Mrs. Obama wore for the inauguration ceremony] has always been a favorite of mine. I could never understand why she hasn't had the name recognition so many others have, but she is widely respected in the couture design world. This couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

As for the ballgown, it has always been a dream of mine to make an inaugural gown, so my natural inclination would be to say, "I could have done better." Wu is a great designer but, in my humble opinion, he made a couple of design flaws that could have made the gown more flattering: (1) the train was too long and made it hard for her to gracefully move about the dance floor and (2) the design line should not have broken at the waist. But, all in all, it looked amazing on her. My personal favorite is the beautiful white column gown Nancy Reagan chose. I'd give my eyeteeth to have 15 minutes with either ensemble, though!

WALLS: It is all about perception. First Lady Michelle Obama does have a unique, youthful style that is much different than what we have seen in recent years. But, I cannot discredit the merit of the fashion designers who designed for previous First Ladies and made sure the gowns were in current fashion for their age and for the appropriateness of the event.

I think it is worthy to note Jackie Kennedy's sense of style as a First Lady because she, too, was considered to be youthful and edgy in her look. The designer who created her style was Oleg Cassini; he was the one who made her into a fashion icon. We must never forget that behind every fashionable look there is a designer and creator to that look. The subjects who are wearing the looks are mere spectators; they did not do the creating.

As far as the First Lady wearing an evening gown by a 26-year-old "unknown" fashion designer, I think it is great. There is so much talent in the fashion industry, and just because a designer hasn't had their own label for 20, 30 or 40+ years doesn't mean that they don't deserve merit nor does it mean that they don't have fantastic design capabilities. I think it helps bring change to the fashion industry when major social icons wear "unknown" designers because it allows fashion designers to compete more on fashion merit and less on a designer's name.

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This bridal gown by Linda Stewart is made of duchess satin. The overcoat is fashioned of English netting hand-embellished with French Alen?on lace. (Photo by Seymore Snapshots, Abingdon, Va.)