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Fashion Expert: Expect More Ethnic and Class Diversity From New First Lady

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
January 14, 2009

Americans will see more ethnic and class diversity in the fashions of First Lady Michelle Obama, whose fashion choices often reflect an awareness and interest in internationally inspired designs, according to a UNH sociologist who studies fashion.

Sociologist Catherine Moran says Obama’s sartorial choices highlight dynamics of diversity, particularly diversity of ethnicity and social class.

“This is a woman who knows her style and is not locked into a mold of what a first lady ‘should’ dress like – a simple suit, for example, in a boring, blend-into-the-background color. Michelle Obama wears bright colors and patterns that draw attention to her, and she can pull it off because she is an intelligent, confident woman,” Moran says.

For example, her election night dress was designed by Narciso Rodriguez, the son of Cuban immigrants who has designed clothes for such celebrities as Selma Hayek, Clare Danes, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He also designed Carolyn Bessette's wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy Jr. On the evening of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as the Democratic candidate for president, she wore a design by Thai-born designer Thakoon Panichgul.

The sociologist notes that Obama's support of ethnic designers may be different, but the price tags are not. The designs still cost hefty sums, which is perhaps why Obama makes a splash just as much when she wears a simple black and white $149 dress on “The View,” a J. Crew sweater set on “The Tonight Show,” or an H&M dress to another event.

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