Michelle Obama Should Wear American Garb

By Joel D. Joseph

Michelle Obama reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. Both are stylish, well-educated, independent and attractive. However, one area where Mrs. Obama should strive to emulate Mrs. Kennedy is that Jackie only wore American-made clothing.

I found an aging, yellowed telegram from November 1960, just after Jackie’s husband was elected president (those were the days before email). The telegram was sent to Gladys Uhl, Mrs. Kennedy’s press liaison and secretary. The cable said, “When Jacqueline Kennedy moves into the White House she will wear only American clothes and she is looking forward to it.”

Jackie gave up her French-designer clothing so that she could be a model for American women to look to for fashion advice. I suggest that Michelle Obama give up her imported Gap, J. Crew, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein apparel, and find a suitable American designer who makes his or her clothing in the good old United States of America.

I recognize that it is much more difficult to buy American clothing now than it was in the 1960s. Ninety percent of the clothing sold in the United States in the 1960s was made here. Now about 5% is manufactured domestically. However, there are still many fine American designers who insist that their clothing is made in America.

The flood of imported clothing can be slowed down. Mrs. Obama can lead the change movement, like her husband has done (President Obama, by the way, proudly wears Hart Schaffner & Marx made-in-the-USA suits).

Fresh Produce, a domestic women’s clothing manufacturer went offshore several years ago and learned the hard way about the dangers of going offshore. Quality suffered. Deliveries were delayed. Fresh Produce brought production back home and now makes most of their clothing in the United States. I don’t expect the First Lady to wear Fresh Produce often because it is casual, but there are many domestic designers she should consider.

Mrs. Obama may want to consider St. John Knits, made mostly in Southern California. When she was 25 years old, Marie St. John was working as a model in Los Angeles, getting ready to marry her fiancé, Robert Gray. It was 1962, and John F. Kennedy was President. Marie St. John acted upon her disenchantment with the styles and prices of women’s clothing hanging on the racks of retail establishments in the Los Angeles area by making her own knit clothes by hand and purchased a $450 knitting loom. Using her loom, she began meeting the demand for her basic yet classic knit skirts and tops, and in the process kindled the spark that created the formation of St. John Knits.

As Robert Gray reflected to Forbes magazine, “I took her dresses to retailers only to stop her nonsense and convince her that no one was going to buy them.” He was dead wrong. For the next 35 years Gray would spend his days meeting the demand for wife’s Chanel-inspired, timeless line of clothing that could endure the seasonal vagaries of fashion.

Another American designer who manufactures most of her clothing in the United States is Nicole Miller. Nicole Miller is a fashion designer with a modern, ageless aesthetic. Her silhouettes are artfully draped to achieve a unique body consciousness. Her signature is feminine and refined.

Miller draws inspiration from a wide range of influences including cinema, contemporary art, mid-20th century architecture and exotic cultures. She is known for elements of whimsy and surprise, and is one of the preeminent New York-based designers among global fashion’s elite.

An American born to a French mother, Miller was trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. The nonconformist glamour of Miller’s clothes is a favorite of many in Hollywood, including Angelina Jolie, Halle Barry and Eva Longoria Parker.

Rachel Pally is another designer the First Lady should check out. Her designs are a favorite of Cameron Diaz, Jessica Alba, Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks and Sarah Jessica Parker.

The First Lady can focus attention on genuine American designers who make their clothing in the United States. At the same time Mrs. Obama should distance herself from Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, the Gap and J. Crew until they start making clothing in the United States once again.

Joel D. Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American-made products. Email JoelDJoseph@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 1, 2010


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