No U.S. first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s has been recognized as a fashion icon. Until Michelle Obama. But while Jacqueline Kennedy projected an image of high fashion, Obama is known more for her ability to relate to the average American woman.
This week, the first lady's fashion sense once again made news -- at the same time she was celebrating a personal milepost of her own. Obama turned 50 on Friday.
After five years in the limelight, Obama may be as well-known for her fashion sense, as for her policy initiatives on nutrition and childhood obesity.
"I think Michelle Obama is very reflective of modern American women," said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, Women's Political History curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. "We’re judging whether the first lady is appropriate. This is a woman who represents us and represents our country and we feel sort of ownership. She belongs to us."
And her fashion belongs to the American people, too, in a way. Her 2013 inaugural gown -- the one she wore to kick off her husband's second term -- will be displayed at the Smithsonian.
This is first time the museum has put a second-term inaugural gown on display. It coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s well-known exhibit of first ladies' inaugural gowns.
"People have been so interested in the dress and asking so much about it," Graddy said. "We thought it might be fun to borrow the dress for a special one-year display here. We thought it would be nice to start a new tradition."
The red chiffon gown, from New York-based designer Jason Wu, was matched with a pair of red pumps made by world-renowned shoe-designer Jimmy Choo.
Judging from the reaction of museum visitors, the first lady's fashion sense connects with all ages.
Obama’s first inaugural gown will return to the museum in January 2015. That’s when the red dress will be put aside for display at a future presidential library. Obama has three more years to continue making fashion statements. For now, though, celebrating her 50th birthday may be the priority.