Michelle Obama poses during the Midatlantic Regional Inaugural Ball on DC, January 20, 2009. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Michelle Obama Paid for All Her Own Clothes and Accessories as First Lady

Obama discusses her beloved stylist, her Oscar de la Renta feud, and more in an ‘Elle’ excerpt from her new memoir.

by Emma Specter
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Nov 12 2018, 5:51pm

Michelle Obama poses during the Midatlantic Regional Inaugural Ball on DC, January 20, 2009. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Michelle Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, is out this week, and in advance of its release, the former First Lady shared a chapter with Elle about what she calls her “White House style strategy.”

She didn’t fuck around with White House ethics requirements. “I paid for all my own clothes and accessories—with the exception of some items like the couture-level gowns I wore to formal events, which were lent to me by the designers and would later be donated to the National Archives, thus adhering to White House ethics guidelines,” Obama writes. Who knew the concept of White House officials adhering to any discernible form of ethics would come to feel so quaint? It was no small financial investment on Obama’s part, considering the range of designers she and her stylist collaborated with from, J. Crew to Thakoon and Narciso Rodriguez.

She sings the praises of her stylist. Obama’s stylist, Meredith Koop, was behind many of the former First Lady’s iconic fashion moments, including the particularly memorable 2009 Jason Wu moment on inauguration night. Before she was on the White House team, though, Koop was a sales associate at Obama's favorite Chicago boutique, Ikram; Obama persuaded her to move to Washington after the 2008 election.

She had a physical fitness test to help her select clothing. Obama and Koop went through an impressive range of motion when trying on clothes: “In my dressing room, I’d put on a new dress and then squat, lunge, and pinwheel my arms, just to be sure I could move. Anything too restrictive, I put back on the rack.” You never know when you might have to pinwheel your arms at a state dinner!

She didn't mind pissing off the fashion establishment. “I wanted to draw attention to and celebrate American designers, especially those who were less established, even if it sometimes frustrated the old guard, including Oscar de la Renta, who was reportedly displeased that I wasn’t wearing his creations,” Obama writes. Indeed, it took until 2014 for Obama to step out in De la Renta, finally putting a years-long, lightly simmering feud to rest.

She made the best of the celebrity media machine. “My pearls, my belts, my cardigans, my off-the-rack dresses from J. Crew, my apparently brave choice of white for an inaugural gown—all seemed to trigger a slew of opinions and instant feedback,” Obama writes, and it’s true that every outfit she wore as First Lady launched a nuclear grenade of takes. (Yes, launching said takes is my personal bread and butter, but it still can’t be fun to be on the receiving end.) “If people flipped through a magazine primarily to see the clothes I was wearing, I hoped they’d also see the military spouse standing next to me or read what I had to say about children’s health,” Obama adds.