How Michelle and Barack Obama's fashion exposes sexist double standards

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Kayleigh Dray
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Michelle Obama became something of a fashion icon during her time at the White House – but, in a recent interview, the former FLOTUS has underlined the sexist double standards that she and her husband, former President Barack, were subjected to on a daily basis.

In a chat with Apple executive Lisa Jackson, Michelle was complimented on her plethora of gorgeous state dinner downs. Raising her eyebrow slightly, she responded: “This is the unfair thing.”

Going on to explain that, while she had every single one of her outfits dissected in the tabloids, Barack donned the exact same tux for every state dinner he attended during his eight years in office.

“You talk about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,” said Michelle. “But no matter what we do, he puts on that same tux. Now, people take pictures of the shoes I wear, the bracelets, the necklace…

“They didn't comment that for eight years he wore that same tux... and the same shoes, too.”

Michelle went on to explain that her husband was incredibly aware of the different standards they were judged by – and that he often cracked jokes about it, revelling in how little time it took him to get ready compared to her.

Michelle recalled: “He was proud of [how quickly he could get ready for these things] too.

“He was like, ‘Mmm! I’m ready. I'm ready in 10 minutes, how long did it take you?’”

While nobody noticed (or cared about) Barack’s tendency to repeat outfits, Michelle – much like Kate Middleton – regularly made headlines when she did, with tabloids either praising her for her ‘frugality’, or criticising her for her ‘laziness’.

She was similarly shamed when she opted to wear a gown by an American designer to a Nordic state dinner (the writer of one such article damned it as a “missed opportunity” to promote a Scandi label, and insisted that, “when it comes to dress, women have significantly more tools than men”.) Conversely, she was criticised for failing to wear an American designer to a state dinner for China at the White House.

And designer Oscar de la Renta called out Michelle on our outfit choice when she visited the Queen in 2009, snidely remarking: “You don't go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.” (The former First Lady didn’t let that stop her wearing a design of his on a royal visit in 2016.)

Barack, however, rarely saw his wardrobe choices commented on, if at all.

And this isn’t a problem that’s confined to the White House, either.

Earlier this year, Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha was “called out” for wearing the same snake-print blouse and black choker for days on end. 

Responding to the comments she’d been receiving on social media, the TV presenter said: “Judge Rinder was telling me he’s worn exactly the same outfit for every interview and nobody’s noticed, and I said that wouldn’t happen here [on Loose Women].

“We always have people notice, or we say something, so I thought: ‘Let’s just see, do a little experiment.’

“Some people have been really angry about it, and so many of my lovely squad on Twitter have been getting into arguments over me. I’ve been heralded as a sustainability goddess.”

And Lisa Wilkinson, who hosts Australia’s Today show, dared to wear the same floral blouse to work twice in the space of four whole months – and, of course, this didn’t escape the notice of the Daily Mail.

Wilkinson hit back immediately on Twitter, sharing a screenshot of the article with the words: “I am sooo busted! Seems I've been seen hosting breakfast TV wearing same blouse with "strategic cutout above the bust" just 4 months apart!!!”

Penning a Huffington Post essay about the incident, Wilkinson was quick to point out the double standards that women face every day.

“You're thinking I should be up in arms. You're thinking I should be giving them what for, or as one person wrote on my Instagram ‘for being so bloody vacuous and irrelevant with the sort of meaningless tripe they serve up on a daily basis’,” she wrote.

“Well, I'm not. In fact, today I am thanking the Daily Mail. For proving once and for all what we know to be true.”

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.