The politics of style

Fashion and politics are not two worlds that often collide.

That was until Michelle Obama came onto the scene.

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Her toned biceps in sleeveless shifts sent women racing to the gym. And her trim figure in stylish, affordable clothes brought an infusion of cash into any industry hit hard by the economic downturn.

So it was only a matter of time before there was a book analyzing her style and offering tips on how to capture her look.

Michelle Style offers a bright, colorful and pithy look at Obama’s wardrobe. And it’s not just about fashion — author Mandi Norwood examines the political meaning of outfits ranging from the campaign kickoff to the Democratic convention, election night and the inauguration. Call it political analysis from the fashion point of view.

Norwood, a former women’s magazine editor, took on the task in a book just as stylish as the first lady. It’s a small hardback that will fit easily into women’s purses and has everything you’d expect from a volume on fashion: lots of color photos, dress illustrations and witty sidebars that offer advice on “clever color combos” and how wearing a “pattern of varying stripe depths” can help you “bend the stripe rule.”

It’s amusing to read about politics from a fashion editor who finds in every outfit a deeper meaning that promotes the Obama campaign philosophy. It makes one wonder if Michelle Obama has put as much thought into her outfits as the fashionistas have.

There are also several flattering and fawning quotes from designers — and many more from Oprah Winfrey best friend Gayle King.

Norwood organizes the book around specific Obama outfits (“The Victory Dress”) or colors the first lady prefers (“The Purple Shall Govern”).

Each chapter describes an outfit, contains a full-color photo, analyzes how said outfit had an impact on the campaign, offers raving quotes from designers and concludes with advice on how to sport a similar ensemble.

For example, Norwood notes that purple “can be difficult” to wear unless you have a good complexion.

And Norwood points out how certain outfits changed Obama’s image on the campaign trail, pointing to the black-and-white dress Obama wore on “The View,” which flew off the shelves after her appearance on the ABC chat show.

At the time of “The View” interview, Norwood notes Obama “had some work to do.” It was shortly after the soon-to-be-first lady said that “for the first time in my adult life, I’m really proud of my country.”

Norwood points out Obama had to “reassure people of her national pride” and get Americans to “identify with her.” And “looking radiant” in a dress that “almost any American woman could wear and afford” helped her accomplish that task.

Norwood not only puts the dress in a political context, she puts it in a fashion context. She notes it was the dress’s A-line cut and two black bands breaking up the bold print that made the outfit flattering. And the “cotton sateen with a touch of spandex” fabric kept the dress fresh and not too wrinkled.

And while Jackie Kennedy may have had Oleg Cassini, Obama has J. Crew.

There’s an entire chapter dedicated to Obama’s love of the store and how her appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show” in a J. Crew outfit — made shortly after reports of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s shopping sprees — showed she could “read the nation’s mood and respond appropriately.” That outfit, according to Norwood, “eliminated any remaining doubts that she was a true, modern woman of style.”

The book also contains such gems as:

Obama “was fortunate to be born with the accessory gene.”

Women who wear orange have an “extroverted and expansive personality.”

And Norwood ponders such questions as whether Obama’s “feisty crimson” Narciso Rodriquez dress, which she wore to the second presidential debate, was a “bid for red states?”

She also notes that “you could have knocked every fashionista down with a feather when news quickly surfaced that Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown was designed by the Taiwan-born newbie” Jason Wu.

There is not a lot of new information in the book, but it has a fun, colorful layout and is a well-organized read. It makes for a beautiful scrapbook of the Obama campaign. And while Washington is not a town known for its fashion sense, Michelle Obama may change that. Norwood’s is a great guide on how to wear clothes properly while taking into account the politics behind the outfit.