HLN: Michelle Obama wore a navy Thom Browne coat and dress. What did you think about her outfit? Was it something you expected?
Phillip Bloch: I think it was expected in that it was very flattering -- very fitted up top and flared out at the bottom -- and in that she chose to support an American designer. But it was also different -- it was a little more somber than usual. She wore navy and gray, and we usually see her in color. She’s usually very feminine, but Monday she was very officious and showed off her masculine, sporty side with the menswear-inspired fabric of the coat. It was much more officious, but very elegant. It was very bold of her. And I do think it was a conscious decision. As a fashion candidate, she gives the people what they want. She gave you a little glamour and a little pragmatism on Monday.
HLN: How would you compare what she wore to this year’s inauguration to her outfit in 2008?
PB: In 2008, she was more colorful -- she wore that beautiful yellow-lime color. Back then, she was almost paying homage to Jackie O. Her style said “I’m here to be the first lady, I’m open to anything.” This year, her style said “I’m here for business. I’ve made a statement, and I have an agenda.” Of course, she couldn’t go without any color, so her gloves matched Malia’s coat and the blue matched Barack. She complemented him so well! Their fashion matches their relationship -- it sends a message that this is how they work together, this is how they raise their children. They’re a very good reflection of each other. And they’re very balanced. I think this is the first time that we’ve seen a first lady be an equal to the president.
READ MORE: Lessons in style from Michelle Obama
HLN: Tell us more about the designer.
PB: You couldn’t get more American! Thom Browne lives in Pennsylvania. He started out in 2002 and designed the Brooks Brothers’ black label for a long time. It’s interesting because, despite having worked for such an incredibly classic brand, he’s regarded as an edgy menswear designer. He’s responsible for shrinking the men’s suit and changing its silhouette.
HLN: What about Michelle’s new coif? Is the fact that she changed it right before the inauguration significant?
PB: New year, new you -- new Michelle! I like the new hair -- it feels young and frames her face very nicely. And I think it brings change. I think we’re going to see her come out much stronger in the second term. She’s already been very strong in the last four years in her work with children’s diets, school lunches and literacy, but she’ll be even more expressive now. The second term is when she sets up what she’ll be working on for the rest of her life. If you think about it psychologically, her new bangs are almost a symbol of protection: She’s got kind of a helmet on, like she’s going into battle. It says “I’m going to fight for what I believe in.” She takes on the issues that most mothers are concerned with, and she’s found a political path through her work ethic as a mother, which proves she’s very genuine. She’s the first lady who represents the women in this country.
HLN: Michelle Obama is certainly influential in both her political work and her fashion choices. How relatable do you think she is?
PB: She’s certainly someone people want to be. She’s got it all, but she shows us that it’s not unattainable. She’s a great beauty -- she’s a very attractive woman, and she’s made more attractive by how she puts herself together. Sure, there are people who help her put it all together, but it’s very under the radar. Even in the industry, it’s not public banter. She’s trying to show us she’s not special -- that you can do this, too. This, too, is a conscious decision. Whether she’s picking a designer or a cause to support, she doesn’t do it haphazardly -- it’s all very well thought out. This is a woman who thinks, “I like this because __ and if I do it, __ will happen.” She’s empowering women, and she’s absolutely leading by example. She’s not holding the rest of Americans to a standard she can’t meet herself.