Saturday, February 19, 2011

Style as Signifier

As someone interested in costume and costume design, I've always loved what people's clothes say about them. I don't mean simply stuff like "put the ingenue in white or dress the heroine in red in the last act." A master class in Semiotics-meets-Style, Debbie Millman's Design Matters discussion with Kate Betts makes wonderful points about how Michelle Obama's style is a strong signifier for Obama's administration. Of course, it helps to have both substance and style. Michelle Obama has 'em.

A striking moment in the interview was about Hillary Rodham Clinton, who worked hard—which in an ideal world would be enough. It isn't. As First Lady, Clinton searched for her style. Betts credits Clinton for paving the way, but the truth is that Hillary doesn't have the same style and charisma. Confidence and being comfortable in your own skin (in the First Lady's case, very buffed skin), not to mention pageantry, can send a message. I know we were just discussing yeoman-like work and its importance, which may make this post seem weird, but I submit that Rollins very much has his own style.

Back to Michelle O, here's a bit more from Betts and Millman about how the marvelous is the message: the red dress that US designer-loyal Obama wore at the January 2011 China State Dinner made a statement. Betts notes that the "Chinese symbolism of red for luck and success" signalled that the dinner was about world, not local, politics.

Image cropped from The Huffington Post Style Page. Photographer credit not apparent.


Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

I kindof love Hillary Rodham's old style...the big Gloria Steinem glasses, the turtlenecks...but I know she had to straighten up to be a lawyer and First Lady. I agree, as does everyone else, that Michelle Obama has "IT", although every time I look at that red dress I want to pull up the left sleeve!

By the way, have you read the Obama aby bump rumors?!

Beth Tondreau said...

Such a Mom, adjusting that left sleeve! Hmm. Haven't heard / seen rumors.