WaPo's Givhan: Americans in Their Sloppy Vacation Wear Should Learn from Chic Mrs. Obama

September 5th, 2010 7:52 PM

Washington Post fashion reporter Robin Givhan, best known to many as Michelle Obama's worshipful accessory to fashion, lectured Sunday to the dumpy masses of America. As most U.S. citizens have "blighted" the landscape in horrid summer clothes, they should really honor the First Lady for knowing how to dress on vacation -- even if Mrs. Obama is wearing a French-designer top that most likely cost upwards of $500 as she took taxpayers for a ride with a fancy Spanish vacation.

There is no populism in the fashionista world.

The headline on E6 in the Sunday Post read "Tourists, take some tips from an always photo-ready first lady: Don't be slobs". And so the lecture began:

First lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House last week after spending her summer vacation walking the fine fashion line between comfortably casual and utterly camera-ready. Her travel attire served as a wake-up call to all those American tourists who have blighted the national landscape with their ill-fitting shorts, sad-sack T-shirts and aggressively revealing tank tops: You can do better.

More than her cocktail dresses, evening gowns and the rest of her official wardrobe, which all draw boisterous analysis, Obama's vacation clothes are positioned to have the most widespread impact. Please, let it be so.

In a society where public attire has grown increasingly pajama-fied, the first lady offered proof that informal doesn't mean sloppy and pulled-together doesn't have to be stuffy.

As usual, Givhan found Michelle struck a perfect balance, classy without being snobbishly elite:

Through her vacation apparel, with its mix of Banana Republic and Narciso Rodriguez, Obama threw down the gauntlet, providing folks with a high-profile lesson on how to be a well-dressed tourist who does not cause the locals to flinch in dismay. Yet she still managed to convey a middle-of-the-road Americanness. She represented the populace in a manner that was approachable but savvy.

In the most prominent photograph from her trip to Spain, she was wearing a black and white one-shoulder top by designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Certainly, Gaultier doesn't come cheap, but the blouse wasn't ostentatious and, paired with black trousers, it was a fine example of how to be bare without baring all.

Notice that Givhan doesn't labor to give us a specific price for the French top on the pricey Spanish trip, or compare that to the aura of failure left by a 9.6 unemployment rate and a failed Obama "stimulus" spending binge. Instead, in full worship mode, Givhan found that Mrs. Obama is a real-life fantasy for fashionistas who can't stand the awful casual clothes choices of the lumpenproletariat:

Obama also tapped into a fantasy that the fashion industry has been desperately selling for years. Designers have long imagined a world in which women and men are thoughtfully polished and even chic as they go about their daily activities. Stylists constantly counsel clients to keep aesthetics in mind, as well as comfort, when they choose their weekend wear. In fashion-land, no one ever wears skimpy jogging shorts when they bike; they wear charming clam diggers. They don't wear lumpy basketball shoes, instead they choose laceless, retro sneakers.

The images of Obama cycling along the paths of Martha's Vineyard called these fantasies to mind. She proved that they can be made real. She reassured designers that no, they are not off their rocker. American vacation sloppiness is not inevitable; it's willful.

Givhan at least had to admit that she was at the front of the line attacking Mrs. Obama's choice last summer to wear one of those awful, sloppy summer outfits as she disembarked a plane to visit the Grand Canyon. Apparently, this is Givhan's way of letting the reader know that Mrs. Obama is paying attention to her critiques.

Does Givhan thinks she's doing Obama or the Democrats any favors with this kind of lecturing to Middle America? Get with it, and get out of your ghastly J.C. Penney togs! Get thee to Bergdorf Goodman! But Givhan she concluded the whole piece with another lecture, about how gauche Americans traveling abroad send all the wrong fashion signals:

[W]hen regular folks travel abroad, they represent both themselves and the collective American identity. Must we continue to be perceived as the most poorly dressed of all tourists? And for those who remain in the States during the final long weekend of the summer, as you visit national parks and local beaches, remember: We are all part of the landscape. We are part of the postcard image, the memory that's tucked into a scrapbook. We should do our best not to mar this country's natural beauty.