People Want First Lady to Include Black Designer Wear

Valencia Mohammed | 1/28/2009, 2:50 p.m.

While most of the spotlight has been on President Barack Obama, the first Black man to become U.S. President, many African Americans are sizing up the First Lady€s attire.

First Lady Michelle Obama, a 5ft. 11in., medium brown complexioned African American woman, is being analyzed from head to toe. She€s appearing on magazine covers and the front pages of the Black Press from Black Hair to South Carolina Black News. Everytime Mrs. Obama appears at big functions her outfits are showcased and become instant news.

What clothes she wears is being scrutinized by women of African descent the world over. For many Black women, Mrs. Obama€s outer appearance has become a symbol of success.
So how did the First Lady score with other Black women? The opinions vary but one theme was consistent and that is for Michelle Obama to include African and African American designer wear in her White House closet.

Before closing its doors in 2005, Rosemary E. Reed Miller, owner of Toast and Strawberries, was known for her one of a kind Dupont Circle boutique that sold accessories to Hillary Clinton, Lynda Byrd Johnson, Mrs. Casper Weinberger and other White House celebrities and personnel in its 30 years.

€It would have been significant if Michelle Obama chose a Black designer to mirror what President [Abraham] Lincoln€s wife did in history,€ Miller said.

In her book, €The Threads of Time, the Fabric of History,€ Miller points out that First Lady Mary Lincoln€s inaugural gown was designed by Elizabeth Keckley, a Black woman who worked 30 years as a slave but later bought her freedom and worked four years in the White House.

Mahama Bawa, owner of Kobos, a traditional and contemporary African clothing and accessory boutique in Adams Morgan, has been waiting for an opportunity to furnish clothing for the White House for 22 years. His dream seems almost a reality with a president whose father was from Kenya and a White American mother who appreciated and embraced other cultures.

Bawa said buyers of all races ask if Barack Obama has shopped at the boutique.
€No, not even as a senator,€ Bawa said. €But I€m still hopeful.

During the primary, Mrs. Obama wore a purple dress designed by Maria Pinto, a Latin American that was seen all over the world.

Another shocker for many Black women was the red and black dress Mrs. Obama wore by Latino American designer Narcisco Rodriguez at the Democratic Convention last August.

Regina Lule, 36, a Uganda native said she was not that impressed with the assortment.

€It looked painful to me. I kept wondering why Michelle chose that dress. There are so many great African and African American designers to choose from like Sylvia Owori that could have draped her in an outfit with expensive African cloth with European styling,€ Lule said.

Other critics referred to the dress as the €Black widow spider€ look. However, European American designers are ranting and raving over her selection.

€That red and black dress was the bomb,€ exclaimed Sammie Ellis, an educational consultant who volunteered in the Obama campaign.

Isabel Toledo, an American born designer of Cuban heritage, draped the First Lady in a lemongrass outfit for the presidential swearing-in ceremony.

An unknown in the fashion world, Jason Wu, a Taiwanese-American designer became an overnight sensation when the First Lady wore his white chiffon one-shoulder evening gown to the Inaugural balls.

€The First Lady has the world looking at her. Why not include African American and African designer clothing? It shows an acceptance of her heritage,€ Bawa said. €If Michelle Obama, the first Black woman to be the First Lady of the United States, wears African and African American designer clothing it immediately suggests to women, particularly Black women, that it is acceptable to wear.€

But not everyone agrees with the concept of the First Lady embracing her heritage.

€She dressed for the occasion which is strictly an American event,€ said Chris Ade. €Michelle might wear African or African American designer fashions while entertaining African dignitaries but I doubt very seriously if her advisors will allow her to wear Black designer clothing for traditional public White House events.€
Charlene Phillips, 40, a Virginia resident agreed.
€Unless Michelle Obama includes African Americans that are culturally sensitive, she may never reach out to Black designers. But it€s early and I€m hoping for a brighter day,€ Phillips said.