Michelle Obama’s fashionable Declaration of Independence

When is a book tour not just a book tour? If it’s a platform for the literal transformation of a major public figure – if it’s a way for someone whose image was captured for posterity at some stage in their life to signal that it’s time to move on.

For one thing, she already has.

That’s how it seems in the case of Michelle Obama, at least judging by the pictures seen during her sea-to-sea promotional tour for The Light We Carry, which ended this week. That something new was afoot (and not just a new book) was obvious not only to those who made it to a theater to hear her twirl with figures like Gayle King, Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres and Tyler Perry, but to everyone who’s participating on social media.

The first lady — preserved in oil by painter Sharon Sprung, who wears a sky-blue strapless gown, her shoulder-length hair styled in soft, straight wings around her face — was left framed on the White House wall. Instead, on several public outings, Mrs. Obama has traded her floral dresses, company cases and J. Crew cardigans for fancy pantsuits, T-shirts and pigtails, as if declaring her independence from the constraints and conventions imposed on her at the Executive Mansion became . A lot of flair happened. duck torches.

The transformation began in New York City with the bright yellow Proenza Schouler pantsuit she wore to an appearance on the Today show. She sped up the flow with the flowy black and magenta zebra-print Versace shirt dress over fuchsia cargos she wore in Washington, DC. Reached the pinnacle of fly-girl nostalgia in a multicolored Roksanda x Fila zip-up sweatshirt, emerald blue one-shoulder bodysuit and baggy black pants in Atlanta.

Caused a kerfuffle with a Brandon Maxwell zip-up bustier and matching cargo pants worn over a long-sleeved white t-shirt and a velvet Balmain pantsuit paired with a tailored Diana Ross t-shirt in San Francisco (a clever one wink to Ms. Ross’ daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, who conducted the interview).

And culminated in oversized faded jeans from Balmain worn with a black top from Marine Serre and a printed silk scarf draped across the chest.

Oh, and there were some Palmer Harding eco-leathers and a Stella McCartney jumpsuit too.

As with the book itself, which mixes homely anecdotes with advice on how to deal with anxiety, pressure and self-doubt, the clothes feel personal; the wardrobe of someone who shook off the filters and decided to dress for themselves rather than to please (or maybe not piss off) the widest possible constituency. Like the fits or not, there’s no denying that Mrs. Obama seemed to enjoy what she was wearing. She modeled a different kind of choice, one that prioritized vigorous self-expression over conforming. Here clothes popped. They were unexpected.

After all, as she wrote in The Light We Carry, she had to remain “careful of my image” for eight years, aware that as what she called the “only one” (the only black first lady, the only black first lady attorney and so on), she walked a fine line between tradition and future; between what was before and what could be. Every decision she made was considered public property, and that extended to every item she wore and every styling choice she made.

As she told Ellen DeGeneres in her on-tour chat, she considered wearing her hair in pigtails at the White House — it would have been easier — but decided against it because she didn’t think the American people were ready for black hair be . It was enough that they got used to a black president and a black first family. She decided, she said, “to keep my hair straight.” It’s better to focus the conversation on health care.

Even after the Obamas left the White House, as Mrs. Obama published her bestselling book, Becoming, and embarked on her first book tour, her image seemed a bridge between the role she had played and the direction she was taking , to hit. Her choices became more sparkly and adventurous (remember those thigh-high Balenciaga iridescent stiletto boots?), while remaining recognizably bespoke.

Now, almost four years later, things look different. One that, according to stylist Meredith Koop, was all about “wanting to feel more and more comfortable.” (She declined to add more.) Can’t really argue with that. Convenience is the only trend everyone can agree on after pandemic lockdowns.

But given Mrs. Obama’s strategic direction, it was about her choice of dress during her husband’s tenure; for how she used the limelight to bring attention to a variety of independent names representative of America’s melting pot; Given how conscious she was of having her every look followed (her burgundy pants-and-belt Superwoman outfit at Biden’s inauguration practically caused an internet meltdown), it’s impossible not to believe that at the Current shift is about more than just physical things comfort. It’s also about the comfort of being comfortable with yourself. And in that it is a conscious statement of intent. The freedom.

Woman. Obama sets her own rules, defines herself according to her own expectations as opposed to the expectations of the role she has to fill. Who is wearing the pants?

At this point she does.

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