As the outgoing First Lady graces the cover of Vogue, Katie Devlin discusses the weight of calling Michelle Obama a style icon.

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LAWYER, writer, activist, humanitarian, wife and mother are just a few of the titles held by Michelle Obama over her eight-year tenure as First Lady of the United States. One poised speech and sartorially innovative appearance at a time, she has been hailed as an inspiration and role model to girls everywhere, so is it right to add ‘style icon’ to that wide array of labels? In the midst of her vast achievements, should we really be underscoring her with praise of good taste?

Mrs Obama has repeatedly been commended for her style choices, ranging from bright colours and bold prints to edgy cuts and fresh shapes. In fact, successfully fusing tradition with modernity is something she has done in most areas of her time as First Lady. The plain truth is, Michelle Obama always looks great. Yet while she is always well dressed, looking nice does not a style icon make.

“Almost anyone dressed in her sophisticated and modish ensembles would undoubtedly end up on all kinds of best dressed lists or Pinterest inspiration boards.”

Almost anyone dressed in her sophisticated and modish ensembles would undoubtedly end up on all kinds of best dressed lists or Pinterest inspiration boards, but Michelle Obama talks the talk.

Throughout history, women such as Lauren Hutton, Audrey Hepburn and even former First Lady Jackie Kennedy were burdened with such a title, and unfortunately have often been remembered solely for this rather than for their individual contributions or character. However, the very fact they were ever referred to as icons infers that they were never just fashionable celebrities. The way they dressed and the status it invoked reflected a wider respect of their identity, their achievements and everything they stood for.

Ironically, one way to illustrate this is to compare Obama with her impending successor, Melania Trump. As a former model, Mrs Trump is well accustomed to the fashion standards that public figures are held to — a fact not missed by designer Jeremy Scott, who told Vanity Fair that “she looks good in clothes”, before adding “I don’t know if it will have the same meaning for people.”

Herein lies the secret to this elusively defined icon: it’s so much more than a well-known face with an eye for style – it’s someone who wears their clothes with purpose and doesn’t let the clothes wear them. Someone who brings meaning to fashion.

In the cover story for American Vogue’s December issue, the focus is not directed towards trends or designer labels as one might expect from the fashion bible. Instead, Obama speaks of the logistics of dressing, citing comfort and feeling self-confident as the most important deciders.

“People don’t just want to look like Michelle Obama — people want to be like Michelle Obama, and imitating her style is the easiest place to start.”

Acknowledging the many young girls who mimic her look or even dress as her for Halloween, it is not any specific feature of her signature style, but rather her overall demeanour that is being channelled. People don’t just want to look like Michelle Obama — people want to be like Michelle Obama, and imitating her style is the easiest place to start.

The effect of this icon title shows no sign of diminishing in her life post-White House. To her final state dinner as US First Lady, she wore a rose gold chainmail gown by Atelier Versace that is destined to go down as one of the most iconic fashion moments of the decade, proving that praise for style can only serve to empower and not demean the other aspects that make up an accomplished woman.