Friday, January 23, 2009


As celebrities go, Michelle Obama’s inaugural outfits weren’t that extravagant. (That’s a relative term, of course. I probably shall spend my entire life without ever wearing a $1000 dress, much less a $6000 ball gown.) Still, I’m curious about the ethical ramifications of fashion in the White House.

Who should pay for the First Lady’s outfits? Half a dozen designers each prepared several clothes and gowns for the First Lady to choose from. Does she return the rest or keep them just in case she feels like wearing one or two more to over affairs?

The First Lady doesn’t get a salary. Does she get a clothing allowance? Michelle isn’t a poor woman and her husband wrote two best-selling books, but given the standards expected of the US First Lady – poor Mrs. Carter was crucified for wearing a gown twice! – I’m sure it’ll be a drain on the pocket, especially since she’s taken a leave from work.

The news reports also confuse me because they cite past criticism over Nancy Reagan’s penchant for “borrowing” gowns – that’s something like movie stars do? Yet they seem to indicate that Michelle’s practice of borrowing jewelry is okay. And, hey, those aren’t all costume jewelry!

The Chicago Sun-Times (,CST-NWS-jewelry22.article ) says: “The Rodkin jewelry isn't cheap; the chandelier earrings Obama wore with her camel-and-black ensemble at the concert are valued at more than $17,000.” Surely, the diamond drop earrings that went with the Jason Wu gown are even more expensive.

News reports say everything worn to the day inaugural and the ball will become part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian. But not everything the First Lady wears will. If Mrs. Obama makes a practice of um, borrowing jewelry and clothes how will that affect governance when the designers and manufacturers face, say, trade or environment or tax issues?

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