When Michelle Obama entered the House chamber for the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, I blurted out to my TV screen, "She's wearing a suit!"
It was a Michael Kors salt-and-pepper tweed suit, to be exact, with a portrait collar jacket and pencil skirt. It’s from Kors’ fall 2013 ready-to-wear collection, and it was the same suit, social media eagle eyes were quick to point out, worn by Julianna Margulies in an episode of TV’s “The Good Wife,” where she plays a defense attorney.
While Obama might have been stepping away from her signature look of a feminine full skirt or dress, worn with a sweet, belted cardigan, she was hewing closer to the look of several other current pop culture icons of workplace style, including Kerry Washington’s crisis manager character, Olivia Pope, on “Scandal” and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer character on “Veep.”
Perhaps the first lady’s fierce suit was meant to suggest that she's ready to move on from her role as dutiful first wife, and get back to a life of corporate lawyering after her husband leaves office in two years’ time. Or perhaps she, like me, has just been feeling a suit moment.
I've been thinking a lot about the '90s-era power suit lately, the kind I wore from Anne Klein, Jones New York and even Bebe (I swear, it was different back then!) when I started my own career in Washington, D.C. Eventually, I graduated to Armani, buying jackets and pants at the super-secret outlet in Milan when I was there for fashion week, back when outlet malls weren’t on the outskirts of every city.
There was something so easy about a having a matching jacket and skirt or pants. It was tidy, unfussy, a no-brainer. Just add heels and a necklace or pin! There was no need to think in the morning, just reach for a clean suit -- just like a man.
In the 20 or so years since then, work attire has changed (thank you, Microsoft and Apple). The casual revolution has meant that many of us can wear jeans to the office with whatever on top. Fashion has changed too. Individuality is prized thanks in part to the rise of style bloggers and their social media forum, which prizes working your own look, not a same-looking suit.
And yet, in recent months, I've found myself watching "X Files" reruns from the 1990s, just so I can admire Gillian Anderson's drapey black silk pantsuits and chunky pumps. (Good news fans, Fox appears to be rebooting the series!) I’ve also been watching "Seinfeld" reruns, and thinking the big shoulders on Elaine’s oversized jackets look so authoritative -- and pretty -- even with the scrunchies in her hair.
With all the talk about feminism this past runway-show season, maybe it’s time for the women's suit to come around again. At Chanel’s spring 2015 runway show, Karl Lagerfeld flew the flag for feminism, but dressed it in throwback looks inspired by the 1960s and '70s. He was showing us individuals, and gave us the idea that they had the power together to make change. But maybe there is more power in looking the same. Marc Jacobs hinted at the idea of women wanting a uniform in his spring show, a riff on military fatigues cut in every way imaginable.
No doubt, many women would say that the pressure to dress like a style blogger, in a different, perfectly accessorized outfit every day, is a distraction from getting the real work of feminism done. There could be some truth to that. Maybe we should all try on suits instead and find out. But not Michelle Obama's Michael Kors suit; it’s already sold out.