“Fashion has become more powerful,” she says. “Style can be used as a powerful tool, and any number of powerful women wield their power through incredible style.” She points to finance executive Mellody Hobson and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as examples.
Vogue’s increasing ability to corral female power brokers suggests that the conventional wisdom is becoming obsolete. Women who are viewed through the lens of fashion are not doomed to be declared frivolous.
“It gives these women a chance to be three-dimensional,” says Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House press secretary and now a political analyst. “Can you be powerful and feminine? Can you be authoritative and beautiful? The answer is yes.”
In an era when social media has made image management part of the daily life of anyone on Facebook or Twitter, few entities are more adept at old-school image-making than Vogue. “It’s all part of the tool kit, now,” says Myers, who had her own Vogue moment when she first stepped behind the lectern in the White House briefing room in 1993.
When first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared on the cover of Vogue in December 1998, in the shadow of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, she wore a garnet Oscar de la Renta velvet ball gown — not a career woman’s pantsuit, not a stuffy Washington luncheon suit. The image was studiously regal and dignified, presenting Clinton with her head held high and existing above the pity, anger and recriminations.
“It foreshadowed the Hillary we’ve come to know, who she has become in the public consciousness, this formidable figure,” Myers says.
As Michelle Obama enters her fifth year in the White House, her image has shifted from that of an African American woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, to an assertive lawyer and career woman, to a non-threatening mom-in-chief harvesting sweet potatoes, to a kind of glamorous hybrid who — based on approval ratings hovering around 70 percent — both inspires and reassures.
Style has been inexorably related to this evolution and her ability to command attention.
“She’s become very savvy about her image and using it to further her husband’s goals,” White says. “Now she’s a fashion icon. She’s willing to play all those cards.”