Michelle Obama Spells It Out For You

Posted on August 18, 2020

Oh, for those halcyon days of 2010, when we could put up some shots of Shelley O’s latest fashion jawn and not wonder if we’d have to spend the day weeding out comments from Nazis and Russian disinformation trolls.

We debated covering this at all just because anything remotely political in 2020 is a pain in the ass for non-political sites like ours. But we couldn’t let this latest – and possibly greatest – example of Michelle Obama’s distinct understanding of how to use fashion to make political statements go by without commenting on it. We’ve said this many times before (mostly in response to questions about why we don’t cover her successor), but we covered her style choices so much back in the day because Michelle Obama was historic in the role of First Lady and very adept at using fashion as a way of underlining her status as the first Black First Lady. She changed our understanding of what a First Lady can look like; not just by the fact of her existence, but in how she refused to adhere to traditional FLOTUS style standards – all of which were devised by and for white women, arising out of traditionally white ideas of femininity, comportment, and appropriateness.


After a decade-plus of documenting and examining roughly 90% of her style choices, we can say with absolute assuredness that every choice she makes, down to the smallest and least noticeable, is made for a reason. She knows who she is, she knows what Americans see when they look at her, and most important of all, she’s keenly aware of her importance as an image and cultural figure to Black women and women of color. Even here, when she knew she was only going to be shot from the shoulders up, she made good and damn sure that a message was sent. We’ll get to the literal part in a second, but we want to focus briefly on those gloriously massive hoops and that soft chocolate brown garment. Bear in mind that most convention speeches are done in a bold color and almost always in some take on one or more of the colors of the flag. It’s exceedingly odd for anyone to take a convention stage in a brown dress or suit, let alone a satin one. And we’re pretty sure no FLOTUS in history ever wore a pair of hoops like those. She is very subtly underlining her status as a game-changing figure and more importantly as a Black woman, in this year of sustained civil rights protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Michelle wasn’t going to come out in some tweedy Chanel number, dripping with country club refinement or some high-fashion sheath dress in a flag color. She was going to serve you brown satin and big-ass hoops as she told you what she wanted and needed from you. And if her speech wasn’t spelling it out clearly enough, then by God, her necklace would do it as clearly as possible:



And because she’s Michelle Obama and leaves no detail unexamined and no part of the message to chance, her V-O-T-E necklace came from the Black female-owned brand ByChari. Designer Chari Cuthbert received a call from Obama’s stylist and asked to make a custom necklace spelling out this most urgent message. “But we had no idea where she was going to wear it,” Cuthbert told The Daily Beast. “We just knew that she wanted it.”

Even in a setting and format as restrictive and low-key as this, she made sure that every element meant something and more importantly said something.  THAT’S why we cover her – and why we won’t be covering any of her successors.






A reminder that this is a fashion post on a pop culture site and we won’t be hosting any political discussions here. Please keep your comments restricted to her style choices and image-craft abilities.


[Still: Joe Biden via YouTube, bychari.com – Video Credit: Joe Biden via YouTube]

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