Kate Betts Talks Michelle Obama Style


Kate Betts

Thursday night was all about First Lady style, thanks to Kate Betts, the editor-turned-author who penned the recent bestseller “Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style.”

Fresh off her national book tour, Betts — who was fashion news director at Vogue, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, and editor of TIME Style & Design before taking time off to write “Everyday Icon” — stopped by FIT (aka, The Fashion Institute of Technology) to give a talk on First Ladies and how they inspire American women.

“They shape the public idea of American women,” Betts told the crowd, explaining that for years there was a divide between First Ladies of style and those of substance, with the popular opinion being that the two are mutually exclusive. She ran down a list of First Ladies who were admired for their style (Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, Mary Todd Lincoln, Grace Coolidge, Jackie Kennedy, and Nancy Reagan) and those who were known more for their substance (Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and, of course, Hillary Clinton).

Michelle Obama is, according to Betts, the first First Lady who has managed to bridge the gap, being both stylish and substantive, and who has shown the world at large that it is possible for a woman to care about fashion — and about how she looks — and still be smart, savvy, and do meaningful work. No duh. But I do agree with Betts’ point that Michelle Obama “harnesses both worlds so seamlessly, and is not afraid to flaunt her idiosyncratic sense of style.”

MO is also the first First Lady to effortlessly mix high-low (from J.Crew, Talbot’s and White House/Black Market, to Alexander McQueen and Narciso Rodriguez). And we all know how invaluable she’s been to the careers of emerging designers like Thakoon, Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Maria Pinto, and Maria Cornejo, among others.

Like smart women everywhere, Michelle Obama dresses for herself, but she uses style to get people’s attention so they listen to what she has to say. Or, as Betts so aptly put it during her talk: “Michelle Obama took Jackie O.‘s style and dressed it up in Hillary Clinton’s brain.”

Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.


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