Saturday, March 7, 2009

Top Guns: When Bare Arms Were in Vogue

Michelle Obama has been taking some heat lately for showing too much skin. From the campaign trail to the Inaugural balls and in her portiat for the White House website, the first lady has defended her right to bare arms. In a recent cover for Vogue magazine, the first lady sported a sleeveless magenta silk dress by designer Jason Wu, who also designed her Inaugural ball gown. The backlash is quite alarming, as though baring ones arms is a new and unchaste fashion concept. The critics who want her arms covered are trying to deflect the wrath of the Taliban, since bare arms are the new erotica. Besides Americans just hate to see well toned arms, it's inappropriate, but we'd rather watch naked celebrities on our networks.

The sleeveless frock is a staple in the closet of many American women adorning the pencil thin frame of Audrey Hepburn and the voluptuous curves of Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the late fifties and the early sixties, long sleeves gave way for frocks that were sleeveless, in a style that is reminiscent of Jackie O. While some outfits were still made with sleeves it was fashionable to bare arms. If the 1920s granted women suffrage rights, the right to bare arms was achieved in the 1960s. Arms are not objects of eroticism, just as toes aren't, but there's room for debate. Michelle is not going around the White House or making public appearances without appropriate undergarments. She is not wearing sheer blouses with no underwear or sporting a visible panty line. She is a woman who looks great for her age and has a pair of perfectly toned arms to go along with the rest of the package.

There's nothing shocking about Michelle's trend. It's a revival of an old trend. In the late fifties and early sixties popular styles for women were fitted sleeveless dresses with full skirts that hit slightly below the knees. Michelle is definitely a different kind of fashionista and first lady. She is world's away from the frailty that was Nancy Reagan or the stoic Eleanor Roosevelt. Michelle cannot be likened to Hillary Clinton either. While Hillary possesed a unique sense of self and an almost unrivaled intelligence, she missed the memo consistently when it came to style, first in the Arkansas White House and then on Pennsylvania Avenue. Her recent stylish rebirth has only come with age and years of enduring her husband's infidelity. If I were to compare Michelle to a former first lady, it would be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The self described queen of Camelot, Kennedy Onassis had a style that was oft described as timeless, classic and modern. These same flowery descriptions have been used to describe Michelle's style as well.

Had she been the first to stake a claim to the right to bare arms then there might be room for an arguemnt. But, this is 2009, and if Jacqueline Kennedy could in the sixties why can't Michelle do so now? Jacqueline Kennedy did not live in this century if we need to be reminded yet she showed off her arms not only in private moments but publicly. Bare arms, where acceptable then and still are now. Those who want to pick a bone with Michelle will be welcome to do so if their complaint was that her bare arms were either too hairy or flabby. Her arms are neither. If change has come to Washington, shouldn't we expect that it pervade the style there as well? I doubt that Michelle Obama will back down and become more conservative with regards to her style. She's favored the sleeveless frock even before she met and married the President. Her job title is first lady, she's not training for the convent. If France can deal with Mrs. Sarkozy why can't Americans handle Michelle's bare arms? So, it's Michelle Obama's party and no one is invited.

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