Politics & Policy

Media Give Michelle a Pass for Designer Duds

Wearing expensive clothing is a vice only when a Republican woman does it.

When Ann Romney wore a designer T-shirt for a TV interview in May, the media made sure to highlight the price.

“Ann Romney’s $990 T-shirt Is Indicative of a Tone-Deaf Campaign,” blared a Washington Post web headline. “Designer of Ann Romney’s $1K Shirt Says It’s Off the Rack,” reported ABC News. “Ann Romney’s $990 shirt — Worth It?” asked Politico. In June, the media were still buzzing over the shirt. “Her look was rarely more of-the-moment than on CBS This Morning last month, when Mrs. Romney wore a $990 Reed Krakoff blouse emblazoned with an exotic bird that winged its way toward her right breast,” wrote the New York Times. “That turnout provoked criticism, with viewers chiding Mrs. Romney as insensitive to the economic struggles of ordinary Americans and, for that matter, to the prickly issue of her husband’s personal wealth.”

In contrast, Michelle Obama’s designer duds for the inauguration have drawn little speculation over their price. (Some of the pieces were custom-made, so it’s impossible to know exactly how much they cost.) Google “Michelle Obama inauguration outfit price” and the most relevant result is from Enstarz — a tabloid-looking website I’ve never encountered before — which estimates one outfit worn by the first lady was about $10,000. No one else in the media, it seems, is curious about how much Mrs. Obama spent.

But while the exact price of her garments isn’t known, there’s no doubt that some of the designers the first lady chose are hardly ones that most middle-class Americans can afford.

Take the coat and dress Michelle Obama wore, which were designed just for her by Thom Browne. Browne is better known for his menswear — and it doesn’t come cheap. A pair of his jacquard shorts costs $830, while a polo shirt with a whale print is $1,880. If a garishly bright-colored plaid sports coat is your thing, you can get one for a mere $2,500.

Mrs. Obama paired the Thom Brown ensemble with a cardigan by none other than Reed Krakoff, whose shirt Ann Romney must thoroughly regret buying. Krakoff hasn’t slashed his prices to reflect recession-era America in the past few months: On his website, a patterned long-sleeve tee  is going for $1,190, while a black dress with a feathery skirt (imagine what your cousin who is into costumes would wear to a funeral) is $2,990.

And while Jason Wu, the designer of Mrs. Obama’s gown for the inaugural ball, did do a Target collection in 2012, most of his items are clearly aimed more at the Wall Street crowd than Main Street. A Jason Wu sheath dress will set you back $2,495. For those pinching pennies in these tough economic times, there’s a more affordable see-through lace blouse that goes for $1,295.

I have no problem with Michelle Obama wearing expensive clothes to the inauguration events; she and Barack, after all, have become fairly well-to-do in the past decade. (In 2011, the couple racked up $1.7 million in income.) Obviously, neither does the media. For them, wearing expensive clothing is a vice only when a Republican woman does it.

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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