VOLUME 28 NO. 6 | JANUARY 31 - FEBRUARY 6, 2009


Move over Michelle, Barack also a fashion icon

Last updated 1-29-09 at 1:07 p.m.

White House photo by Pete Souza

By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly

One of the many lighthearted topics that comes with becoming the president of the United States of America is how the commander-in-chief presents himself. Presidents of the past wore wigs like those of our neighbors across the Atlantic, but with the advent of photography, broadcast television, and the Internet, the physical appearance of our nation’s leader has become just as important as how he’s running the country — to some people at least.

Most people who remember the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush years recall that both men were seldom photographed in anything other than suits and, oftentimes, it was a suit that looked like it came off the rack.

The synergy of contemporary politics, technology, and the popularity of gossip magazines may have created presidents concerned with their image, presidents who are concerned with being fit and chic.

The most prominent example of this is President Obama, whose youthful grasp of life is not only exemplified in the way he carries himself but also in the way he presents himself. In 2006, Obama was on the cover of Men’s Vogue and was photographed by famed fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz.

“In the cover image, [Obama] is shown wearing a crisp white shirt and a pale blue tie with a pattern of fine stripes. But since there are no grand flourishes, the eye zeroes in on the details,” wrote Robin Givhan in an Aug. 11, 2006 article for the Washington Post.

“The fact that the forearm button on the left sleeve is undone, and there are tiny wrinkles along the seams, one gets the impression that Obama wasn’t fussed over and primped — at least not lavishly.”

But Obama’s look isn’t necessarily “unlavished” as much as it is simple, which is a huge part of his physical appeal. He wears slim, form-fitting suits, as opposed to the bulky garb that has been on former presidents — the kind of suit that made Reagan look more like a robot than a man.

Though Obama’s streamlined look may not be ground-breaking, it’s definitely a step forward, fashion-wise, in the political world.

Fashion designers like Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, and Isaac Mizrahi became involved in Obama’s presidential bid by producing merchandise that appeared on his Web site.

Of course, for graffiti enthusiasts and fans of street art, Obama’s ultimate fashion coup may have been how his constituents have represented him — for example, the art deco-esque image of his face by Obey artist Shepard Fairley.

Not only has Obama been an exciting political figure through his personal style, but he has also been immortalized on stickers and T-shirts by one of the most admired and imitated names in contemporary street art. It is the ultimate stamp of cool.

Still, it’s hard to shake the idea that Obama has always been like this, but thanks to large attention from the press — and that whole “winning the election” thing — his place as a possible fashion icon is becoming solidified.

“[Obama] may not have been groomed and dressed for his appearance in the glossies, but his image has been exuberantly romanticized,” concluded Givhan. (end)

Elements in this story were provided by “Mussed for Success: Barack Obama’s Smooth Wrinkles” by Robin Givhan (Washington Post, Aug. 11, 2006) and “Fashion Trends Toward Obama in Presidential Race” by Kristi Ellis (Blendnewyork.com, Oct. 25, 2008).

Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

‘Runway to Change’

Obama’s campaign merchandise from the nation’s top designers.


Alexander Wang’s Racerback Tank Top, $45

Vera Wang’s Vote Obama ’08 Ladies Fine Jersey T-shirt, $60

Derek Lam's Obama Flower Tote Bag, $75

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