How to match substance with style like Michelle Obama -

How to match substance with style like Michelle Obama

The first lady teaches young girls that they can make their own fairy tales

Walk a mile in Michelle’s manolos

Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

If you ever meet the Queen, there is protocol to follow: subjects must call her “Your Majesty” on first reference and “ma’am” after, and a bow or curtsy is not a bad idea. Most important is the “no-touch” rule: let the Queen extend her hand to you, and shake without squeezing or lingering. Do not touch the Queen’s shoulder, kiss her cheeks, or hug her.

Unless you’re Michelle Obama. In this case, crack a joke and go in for the embrace.

“Michelle hugs everybody, that’s her spirit,” says Newsweek writer Allison Samuels. The first time she met the first lady was backstage at an awards ceremony in Atlanta, when security guards tried to stop Samuels’s mother from approaching Obama, who intervened. “She said, ‘Don’t make mama leave, she’s gotta stay!’ Then Michelle gave her a big hug. My mother still talks about that moment.”

It’s not what we’re used to from first ladies, but Michelle Obama—real, down to earth, accessible—is like your best girlfriend. When challenged to a push-up competition on The Ellen Degeneres Show last month, Obama removed her jacket and dropped to the floor. (The first lady won by a landslide.)

Good television, yes, but is it good etiquette? “Truthfully, I don’t even think she cares about that stuff,” says Samuels, the author of What Would Michelle Do?: A Modern-Day Guide to Living with Substance and Style. In the vein of two similar books by different authors—2005’s What Would Jackie Do? and 2008’s What Would Audrey Do?—this is a lifestyle guide to fashion, friends and family according to Michelle Obama.

For example, it exhorts readers to pick a theme song (the book suggests something by Chaka Khan), own their accomplishments (and their mistakes), and take risks. Do make lists and timelines, write thank-you notes, and read three newspapers a day. But don’t covet others’ lives, let your anger at your husband’s absences get the better of you, or spend too much time with your BlackBerry.

Noticeably absent is any use-this-fork protocol. “Michelle’s about strength and education; the style and etiquette came later,” says Samuels. “Michelle grew up poor, but had the brains and dedication to get scholarships, to graduate from Harvard Law, to push herself forward—but not by meeting a man. This is what makes Michelle a modern-day icon.”

That said, don’t pick a dud either. An old joke has the first lady bumping into an old flame at a dinner. The President says to her, “Just think, if you’d married him, you’d be the owner of this lovely restaurant,” to which she replies, “No, if I’d married him, he would be the President!” The same story has been told of Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush, but in this case, one of Obama’s Harvard professors told Samuels he wouldn’t have been surprised if Michelle Obama had become president.

Even if you’re smarter, let your husband shine. “During the first election, people found her overpowering and a bit intimidating. When she realized she was hurting him, she toned it down. She lost the corporate outfits, she softened up,” says Samuels.

Be sure to dress the part. You’ll see Obama in dresses, cardigans and pearls, but she does take some chances. “She wears Jason Wu and Alexander McQueen, but also Banana Republic and the Gap. She’s the first first lady we’ve had in years who really loves fashion.”

Don’t judge others too harshly; learn from their mistakes. “Any comparison of first ladies should be couched in comparing the times,” cautions Toronto etiquette writer Karen Cleveland, who calls Obama “the antithesis of pretension.” Despite our tabloid culture, she “humanized and modernized her role so she’s very easy to identify with.”

Ultimately, be a role model. Samuels says Obama is important to young African-American women: “Michelle’s an icon because she teaches us that you can make your own fairy tale,” explains Samuels, emphasizing that when Michelle met Barack, he had holes in his shoes and drove a junker. “Reality shows teach young girls to go get a rich baller—a basketball player or a rapper,” she says. “But don’t be like that. Don’t be a Kardashian; be a Michelle.”


How to match substance with style like Michelle Obama

  1. Mrs. Obama, I LOOOOOOOVE YOU!!!! You are a remarkable woman and I would love to have some of the incredible things that you have. You are a role model, brilliant, beautiful, a great wife and mother, approachable and friendly. We all can relate to you and feel like we know you. God bless you, President Obama, your family, The Bidens, The Clintons, the entire White House staff and their families. May God continue to bless and keep you all safe, and here’s to another 4 years of THE OBAMAS!!!!!

    • God help us all if that happens.

  2. Rosemary – How much money did the Obama people pay you to write this gushing, nauseating piece of trash? The only reedeming factor is that it showed up in MacLeans, so the chances are that not alot of people will see it

  3. So yes girls, work hard so that you to can have a figurehead position in which you get to wear pretty dresses and shut your mouth. Michelle Obama is a perfectly fine person, but her role in government is hardly a substantive one. And I’m not sure she would be so celebrated if her role reflected her deeply held beliefs: 

    Like most first ladies (sole exception: Hillary Clinton, who actually did wield influence in DC), she promotes more attention to feel-good issues (offhand… Obama – eating well, Laura Bush – literacy, Barbara Bush – literacy, Nancy Reagan – drugs are bad). 

    • Honestly, her racist views are disgusting IMO. How she, someone who is only know due to her husband’s success, is being applauded here is beyond me.

  4. God she’s ugly.

  5. I think its funny how she plants an organic garden at the White House and goes on about the importance of eating well, all the while her husband’s administration is the most freindly yet to GMOs and industrial agriculture.  Practice what you preach.

  6. What a suck up article! Macleans has once again proved that it is a Canadian mouthpiece for the left-wing Democrat Party. When does this magazine ever criticize the Obamas? You know since the Obamas are so “awesome”  maybe we should forego the election and just crown them king and queen. Better yet lets do away with presidential term limits and make them first couple for life. If the Obamas are so great then why are the Democrats expected to lose the U.S. Senate and more governorships.Obama’s reelection may be a 50/50 shot but the Democrats have lost a lot of races since he took office(6 governorships, about 750 state legislative seats, 64 U.S. House seats, and 6 U.S. Senate seats). Also, current polling shows them(the Democrats) losing about 6-8 more U.S. Senate seats, 4-5 more governorships, and faling to make any dent in the U.S. House or state legislature races. Obama is trying to attack the Republicans as the ” Do Nothing ” Congress just like Truman did in 1948. The only difference is that he is having far less success. In 1948, Truman won reelection and gave the Democrats control of both houses of congress. Obama might win reelection but is failing to help Democrat candidates further down the ballot. In addition, the Democrats will have more than twice as many seats to defend in 2014(Obama’s possible infamous 6th year when virtually every president’s party loses big in congressional races. In 2016(if Obama is reelected), you could have a U.S. Senate with over 60 Republican seats out of 100, a large Republican majority in the House, and a country tired with 8 years of Democrat rule. Only once have Democrats held the presidency for more than eight years and that was under FDR. Republicans have held the presidency for more than eight years during the following periods(1860-1884, 1896-1912, 1920-1932, and 1980-1992). Regardless of Obama’s personal performance, the Democrat Party has been rendered almost entirely ineffective in the South(where 1/3rd of Americans live) and is in real bad shape in the midwest. In the Midwest, Republicans hold 9 of 12 governorships, 20 of 23 state legislative bodies, will have 16-17 U.S. Senate seats out of 24 total after 2012, and have almost a 2 to 1 edge in House seats. After 2012, the Republicans in the south will hold 11 of 13 governorships, at least 23 of 26 state legislative bodies, between 70-75% of all U.S. House seats, and have a 22 -4 lead in Senate seats(all 4 Democrat Senate seats are up for reelection in 2014).The longer Obama stays in office, the more he reduces the American left as a political force nationwide.