Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What makes a style icon?


Yesterday, while at work, I noticed a book on the "New Books" shelf: Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style. I had a pretty strong reaction to this book. It's been bothering me since. Initially, I was upset by the use of the word "icon". I think the word is overused. And I thought it was misused here. This morning, I looked up the definition of "icon":


icon, ikon [ˈaɪkɒn] n

1. (Christianity / Eastern Church (Greek & Russian Orthodox)) a representation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, esp one painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church


2. an image, picture, representation, etc.


3. a symbol resembling or analogous to the thing it represents


4. a person regarded as a sex symbol or as a symbol of a belief or cultural


5. (Electronics & Computer Science / Computer Science) a pictorial representation of a facility available on a computer system, that enables the facility to be activated by means of a screen cursor rather than by a textual instruction [from Latin, from Greek eikōn image, from eikenai to be like]


After reading the definition of the word, I will concede that, yes, Michelle Obama is an "icon". She is a symbol of a belief and a cultural movement. I can agree to that. Without getting into politics, this administration is self proclaimed "hope" and "change", and all those affiliated with it, represent this belief and this movement. Okay. Now let's get to the point. This book isn't about Michelle Obama as an "icon" representing the movement and beliefs of her husband's administration. This book is about her fashion. So I looked up the definition of "fashion icon":


fashion icon n (Clothing & Fashion)


a person or thing that is very well known as being highly fashionable


Now I know why I had such a strong reaction to this book..... Let me preface this next argument, I don't think Michelle Obama wants to be a fashion icon. I think the media is trying to make her into one. And I think it's annoying. I bet she finds it a bit annoying especially when she doing all sorts of other relevant work.


So I started to research the book a bit and found this book excerpt from The Today Show. If you have time read it, and let me know your thoughts. I think it's a stretch at best. The book's author explains that American women have spent their lives sacrificing fashion and style because they are subscribing to "the false idea that style and substance are mutually exclusive". Seriously? And it took Michelle Obama wearing J.Crew to help this generation of American women realize that they can be both fashionable and gasp smart?!?!?


Another excerpt I found amusing:


"As the generation led by the new First Lady consolidates and extends the gains of its predecessors, American women still wrestle with the question of appearance. We worry whether paying attention to what we wear will automatically entitle people to disregard what we say or do. We wonder whether the wrong outfit will violate some cultural no-fly zone."


Alright. I do not wrestle with my appearance or what being well dressed says about me. I know what it says. It says that I have enough self respect to want to look nice every time I leave my house. It says I have enough respect for my boss and co-workers to look nice and well put together when I come to work. It most importantly says that I take myself, my position in life, my job, and whatever it is I am verbally saying to another person very seriously, so I put in some effort to convey that with my appearance. I am not worried that people will pay attention to my appearance, I'm worried they won't! I am fully confident that I can pay attention to what I wear and not be disregarded by others. I actually think people are capable of taking me seriously while I look like I care about what I'm wearing! Mind blowing, I know....


This author is really reaching for some relevance to a book that is just plain unnecessary. One reason it's unnecessary is that Michelle Obama has only been First lady half a term! Maybe we should see what else she wears? I could also write a thesis on why she isn't really very fashionable at all, and why she is certainly no fashion icon. She is not blazing a trail in the fashion world. I'll admit that is a matter of personal taste and opinion. She may be another girl's epitome of fashion genius (I doubt that, but it's possible), she just isn't mine. I think though, I can say with some authority that Mrs. Obama is not "using her self-possessed style to set the tone and to define a new etiquette of power." She just isn't. I don't care how many books and articles are written on the topic, it does not make something false true.


***UPDATED TO ADD***


After reading some comments, I'd like to add that I really tried to keep my personal politics out of this post. I'm sorry if it came across that I don't think Michelle Obama is a fashion icon because I'm not a Democrat. I completely agree that good style is in the eye of the beholder. This is just my opinion. My main point is that I think this book is a real stretch because I don't feel like this particular woman is redefining how American women dress and view fashion in their lives.

16 comments:

New aGe said...

Kind of like that one time her husband won a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing....

A Texas Gal said...

New aGe - I like your comment.

I am very opposed to calling her a fashion icon - mainly because I'm old fashioned but while I love strapless dresses and she does have amazing arms - she needs to cover them up when meeting with heads of state - then again that would be the conservative thing to do. I just believe there is a time and a place for shoulders to be bare and meeting heads of states and dignitaries just isn't one of them.

Miss Type-A said...

I sort of understand what you're saying, but I honestly think that you're letting your politics color your view of this book. Different people have different ideas about who is a fashion icon-- and maybe she isn't to you, but is to other American women. Isn't that okay?

Miss Type-A said...

and that wasn't meant to be mean! I <3 you and your blog, it's just my opinion!

Carrie said...

I agree with you and disagree. I mean as far as how long she spent in office I think that is irrelevant. Jackie was a fashion icon and Jack was not president for more than a term. Now ofcourse the difference is Jackie did influence how others dressed and I don't think Michelle does.

I don't think Michelle wants to be a fashion icon, I don't think she's inspiring the masses and I don't think she has a staple style that you can attribute to her. However, I think for some woman she does influence what they buy or what vibe they send out and I think you're too young and on the opposite side of the political aisle to see that side of it.

Preppy Pink Crocodile said...

Hmm, I guess I don't really understand what her husband's politics have to do with her fashion polls. She certainly didn't ask for or aspire to this. I think it's awesome to see her fresh take on classic styles. And the bit about her arms not being covered up...Nancy Regan and Jackie Kennedy wore strapless all the time.

I also don't think that she is infuencing masses like Jackie did. But we now live in a time when folks on MTV reality shows influence masses more than community and world leaders. I bet every high school kid knows who Snookie is but very few know the details of what's going on in Egypt. So while I don't think she is truly a style icon to the masses, I'd rather see her pretty picture than any MTV fool any day of the week.

Preppy 101 said...

I agree with you. She is NOT a fashion icon at all. She is merely following the style of true fashion icons. xoox

Emily said...

I fully agree with you. 100%. Even if my view on politics is getting in the way a tad! I do not think she fits under the category of a style or fashion icon whatsoever. Yes, she has cute outfits... whom I'm sure others chose for her, however looking cute, or following trends that are already made does not make you a style icon. I will say this: I baby sit a ton & am forced to watch hours upon hours of disney channel. The commercials she is in on that channel do not describe a fashion icon!!!! Her look is awful on those haha!!

...just another preppy shopaholic said...

Sorry, NOT a fan of the "icon" pictured in the photo! ;)

Mrs. R said...

I would have to respectfully disagree. I think the book isn't necessary and just a waste of paper, but I would say she is a style icon to a lot of women in this generation. She has placed a spotlight on a lot of new designers in America and she has enough of an influence to keep Oscar de la Renta whining every few months. No she isn't the first lady to wear a sheath dress, but neither is Jackie O.

I think women like her because she can wear the safe cardigan and pearls one day and the next day appear at an important dinner in Alexander McQueen. Not many 1st ladies did that. So I believe that is why she has such an appeal to women and designers. I am not a fan of Obama or McCain, but I love their wives! Cindy McCain outfits were just stunning. I am sure if she was in the white house she would be a style icon too. It just come with the territory I guess.

Bella Michelle said...

I agree with you but I have say I the fact that all your comments - agree or disagree - are so tasteful and respectful!!! Love it!

Sundresses and Smiles said...

I would agree with you-- I do think she dresses well, but I wouldn't call her an icon. She isn't creating new trends; she's following them. Additionally, if her dress should make her an "icon" I'd say many of us should be called icons too, because we love a J. Crew cardigan or fabulous strapless dress, we just might not be in the spotlight as she is.

DJ said...

This is the first time I'm hearing of the book, but did you consider that the author may not consider her as much of an icon so much as a way to sell a book? Michelle Obama's fashion sense hasn't been a topic for a while now, Kate Betts obviously wrote this with a specific audience in mind.

Mrs. Lynch said...

If one were to really think about it, Michelle Obama did usher in a bit of fashion change. I do think many people are letting their opinions of her husband or political affiliations sway their opinion but as someone who cares foe neither party, I digress. Laura Bush wore many suits, as did Hilary Clinton before her. Michelle Obama chooses to wear more colorful items that happen to be affordable to many. Many people refuse to see that the differences and that in itself is crazy. I am not a worshipper (I save that for God) but I'm willing to call a spade a spade. But regardless of my honest opinion, I love your blog and plan to follow it regularly.

Mrs. Lynch said...

I just caught my misspelled word/grammatical errors. Pay me no mind...I'm seething with anger that my husband changed the channel from my show and fell asleep during his "preferred viewing".Ugh

Vesuvian Woman said...

Michelle is not a fashion icon to you, someone who has a personal and long-running interest in style and fashion. To women younger than you and her daughters and all of the women who would have never thought to wear a Japanese designer, she is not only an icon - she is a living legend.