Conversant In Color: Saturated Tones on the First Lady of the United States

It’s been too long since a Conversant In Color post!  I still have a few color concepts rattling around in my brain that won’t go away, so I thought I’d pick up the series by exploring the color choices of Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States.  It’s nearly Election Day!  I always found elections exciting times, even when I was a little kid.  While I don’t live in the U.S., I am aware that this presidential campaign has been vitriolic.  Please, let’s let that go for a little while and simply take a look at how the First Lady uses color.

Mrs Obama and I have radically different coloring, climate, and performance needs (when was the last time *I* had the Chinese Prime Minister to dinner?), but after much digging in Google Images I realized we have some similar ideas on color.   For one, she doesn’t shy away from using color freely in her wardrobe.  Naturally, she wears black and white and beige neutrals like anyone else, but for events ranging from state dinners and goodwill tours abroad to “mom-in-chief” moments and awareness campaigns, the First Lady turns to colors she knows she can rely on.

The more I looked, the more I saw that the First Lady works from a pretty tight color palette.  She does occasionally deviate from her “colors,” but these variations just show the wisdom of her stock color choices:



I like these colors together.  On her!

Orange, what looks like a full maxi skirt… Oh swoon…!



She carries herself so well- next to her, two of the world’s most powerful men (Hu Jintao, Barack Obama) look like mere politicians.  She is regal- and doesn’t deny her height by slumping over.



The lesson here- if you’re going to stand out in a crowd, then own it.  Here, the First Lady stands out for her height and skin color, two unchangeable physical attributes.  She shines in this sapphire frock.

The same dress, after hours.

Head-to-toe, every inch a lady.  The First Lady.


I gathered all these images to show the First Lady’s “go-to” color palette.  When thinking about use of color in the wardrobe, it’s easy to think of clear divisions between “warm” and “cool” coloring.  Mrs Obama’s palette does not easily fall into these categories- check out the way she wears both blue-purples and red-purples equally well.

However, it is important to note that all of the colors we’ve looked at share a common trait- they are clear and/or brilliant.  I’m no expert on dressing darker skin, but to me it seems the more saturated colors work incredibly well with her depth of coloring.  For the First Lady, the important factor in choosing color is not “warm” or “cool” as much as wearing colors as rich as her natural tones.  She also looks very well in plain color or clear abstract patterns.

This is a good trick to remember regardless of your personal coloring- try matching the saturation of the colors you wear to your natural coloring.  This may or may not suit your personality, but it’s likely you’ll discover new color-friends this way.

Gray is a great “invisibility” color for the First Lady.  A quietly flattering blending-in color, like we talked about in the Separates post.  We all need a little invisibility sometimes, right?

Out of many possibilities, I chose this dress to illustrate my point about the First Lady and her color choices.  Each individual color on this dress may well work for her- worn separately.  They’re perhaps a trifle bland for her, a little washed out.  The print is not my taste to begin with, and I’m not sure it really does the First Lady any favors.  Some have dubbed this the “slipcover dress,” but I think that’s rather rude of them.  Even if it isn’t her best look.  We can’t win them all!

First Lady Michelle Obama injects more glamor into the White House than it has seen since the days of Jackie Kennedy.  She’s not a pampered socialite, she’s not a model, she’s not a young woman in years despite her athleticism and vigor.  She’s a normal woman who does the best with what she has.  I think that’s why I admire her so much- because she’s a woman who quite obviously does the very best she can with her life and the opportunities she has.  This goes beyond clothes.

This is my current favorite First Lady dress, the one she wore to deliver a speech at the DNC last month.  Some of her words have stuck in my mind since then-

If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.

Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.

I know it’s easy to get caught up in all the noise and conflicting opinions surrounding the election, but I keep going back to that- we can vote, we have our nation and our rights because of the struggles of those who have come before us.  This is no small thing.  People died so we can have what we have- and what are we doing with our hard-won rights?  It’s not just heros and legends who make our history, it’s the ordinary people the First Lady speaks of who looked around at their world and thought they could make it a better place.

We can make our world a better place.

At the risk of being bossy, please vote, Americans.  It’s your choice who you vote for, not mine (I voted a few weeks ago), but vote because the simple act of exercising your rights validates those unyielding struggles of which the First Lady spoke.

What do you think?  Saturated colors best on the First Lady?  Which is your favorite dress?  Did I leave one out you love?  Which one?  I have other Color concept posts, but it was fun to cyber-stalk the First Lady and tease out her color theories… Should I do someone else next?  Who?


  1. Thanks for popping up on Google Reader and injecting a bit of glamour into my day! I’m at a small airport with hours to kill before my train home, this is what I needed! :)
    I love Michelle Obama’s style, and I love everything you said about her.
    I envy her ability to pull off yellow, but my favourite dress is the second in the purple section, even though it’s more “modern” than “regal”. To me it’s a perfect match of fabric and cut, neat and yet not boring at all, in fact quite the opposite.
    I look forward to seeing what other readers pick! :)

    • Haha! I love that you told me that. How lovely. :) I could have kept going, really… exploring neutrals, prints in greater detail, use of accessories… There’s many many posts in Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe…

      I know! I wish I could wear yellow like that, too!

  2. I like your look at the use of color, and you used quite a stylish person as an example. Personally, I use mostly clear (not muddy) colors, and the colors don’t have to be super-saturated.

    We voted early, last Sunday morning at 7. When this is all over, what are the pundits going to talk about? – “Oh, by the way, there was some flooding last week?”

    • So stylish! ;) But accessible, too… So you go for similar clarity, but less intense colors?

      Sigh… I assume the pundits will go back to shouting at their shadows and making things up like the usually do…

  3. I admire , what I would call the first women to be The First Lady, she is elegant, but down to earth. To me she exemplifies the women we all love to be. She is a college graduate and was a working mom. Hats off to the First Women In the White House.

    • Yes- I want to be Michelle Obama when I grow up… ;) Maybe not so much married to a politician.. but if I have even a fraction of her poise and strength as a woman when I’m her age, well, that would be fantastic. And in the world we live in, it’s really nice to have a woman like her to look up to. Hats off indeed.

  4. Well said. That indigo dress/ coat combo showed up in Knipmode a couple of issues ago. They did a Michelle special, including a shirt dress. Also, I actually quite liked the colourson the slipcover dress XD

    • I love her in indigo… And that sapphire colored dress.. Whew.

      I could definitely see that you’d like those colors- they’d go well with your paler coloring… :) I just don’t particularly think they do her any favors… Not like orange or purple, know what I mean?

    • Yeah- I have seen that one! Hahaha. That little girl is famous because she said what everyone is thinking!

      I guess I haven’t been exposed to people calling and knocking on doors enough to be “over” it, but I am over- well… No… I said I wouldn’t get political here… :D:D:D

  5. I think yellow is her best color and my favorit is the yellow suit, with white buttons from the first set of pictures. But then, I’m a sucker for feminine suits.

    • Yes! I love her yellows… Google Image search “Michelle Obama yellow” and settle in for some great yellow fashion… Honestly, I could have done a post on each of her colors and would have had plenty of material… ;)

      I like femme suits, too… She seems to wear those, full skirted dresses and sheaths.. You’d think that’d be limiting but using the same silhouettes repeatedly seems to “tighten up” her style…

  6. Excellent examples of how intense colors can be quite elegant, without looking like a bridesmaid dress. I would find it hard manage that much intensity myself, without fear of vanishing in my dress. It’s great to see those beautiful colors on the First Lady. Voting first thing on Tuesday morning, even though I’m in one of those solid color states….

    • Hahha! You’re so right but for whatever reason that didn’t even occur to me… Elegant and not bridesmaid-y…

      I can’t wear such high intensity colors much unless they go with my pink person skin.. Blues and purples, reds… But I’m pretty envious of her color range!

      My vote gets counted in Texas…. Sigh. But I still feel like it’s important to go vote anyway. (Or in my case, order the ballot, fill it out, send it back and hope someone counts it/it doesn’t get lost along the way…)

  7. I think she looks particularly good in solids … sigh … good solids that are reasonably priced are somewhat hard to find in Brisbane (not to suggest for a moment I could compete with her gorgeousness)

    • Do we live in the same Brisbane? ;) Have you tried The Fabric Store? They have ab-fab affordable solids in great colors, more fiber types than you could shake a stick at… ;)

      Nah, there’s no competition. That’s a trap- competition between women… It doesn’t do any good, and comparing one woman to another- well- we’re all so different there’s no comparison…

  8. I really love Mrs. Obama’s style. Her use of colour and pattern always impresses me and I always enjoy seeing what she will wear next. I also love that she has a variety of price points in her wardrobe – everything from H&M to designer duds. Shes a really cool lady!

    As a Canadian, I am often horrified at how vitriolic American politics can become. It simply wouldn’t fly here. That said, I really like and respect the Obamas and sincerely hope that President Obama is re-elected. We could definitely use someone like President Obama governing our country!

    • I love her style, too. Especially at State Events, I’m always all fluttery to see what she’ll be wearing.

      Yes, I think it is horrific, too. Even worse is the amount of lies and deception being used in this campaign… Just outright, verifiable lies- and often the people swallowing these lies are the very ones who would benefit from Obama’s policies. I just don’t understand it.

      The other thing is… The Obamas have suffered unrelenting personal attacks in the past five or so years. Nasty, horrible, dreadful, petty attacks. No one said the kinds of things about Barbara Bush that are written about Mrs. Obama- a woman who obviously takes her position very seriously and works her head off. I hate that.

      Maybe if he doesn’t get re-elected you can offer him a position further North. ;) ;) (joke, joke, no one jump up my nose!)

  9. I have always admired the Mrs. Obama’s choice of clothing. She is tall and she isn’t a supermodel, and she knows the silhouettes that look good on her and she always looks polished and chic. I also like that she is happy to wear clothing that is accessible to the rest of the population, through a variety of price points. Great post, Steph!

  10. I love Michelle’s color palette and it is similar to my own– clear colors (more Spring than Fall) and tones. I certainly plan to vote first thing Tuesday morning and while I am very proud to vote for Barack Obama, I am also looking forward to voting Democratic for our local Congressman as our president needs all the help he can get in the House as the last 2 years have demonstrated. Thanks for the pretty on Michelle!

    • You are very right, Kathy- he does need our support. I’ve been gnashing my teeth, watching the divided Congress squabble and b*tch the past two years… It would be fantastic to actually make some positive changes in Congress.

  11. Now a page with the lovely lady, Mrs. Mitt Romney, to avoid partisanship would be wonderful. 


  12. What an incredible inspiration to all young women! I love to see a woman who is powerful and intelligent and yet remains very much a woman. I am particularly fond of the yellow dresses, I think they suit her but as you point out, even in a less than perfect dress she still shines. Oh to have that level of personal confidence. This is the sort of role model you want for your daughter!

    • Yes, me too! I would venture a guess that she’s worked very, very hard to achieve the level of confidence and poise and polish we admire in her. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live so much in the public eye, it must be a terrible burden. Yet she handles it well, and holds herself above the muck without being haughty. Well done, her.

      Hahaha- for my daughter, for me… I’m always on the lookout for great female role models, and she definitely is. From reading other things she’s written about race and family and community building, I can see that she’s using her position to be precisely that- a great role model. I like that.

  13. This is a great post. Ms. O is really rocking those colors.
    I just learned this week I look really good in saturated colors. Perfect time this post is.

    • She really, really does rock those colors… :) When I was digging around for this post, I found a lot of rude things written about her appearance and I just couldn’t believe it. How tacky of them… And the way she keeps going anyway with her head held high shows she’s got serious class…

      Oooh! How did you learn that? I’m really interested in color on dark skin… Such possibilities…

      • Last week my friend and I went out shopping to help me find something to wear for a date and everything bright and bold that was picked look great against my complexion. We thought we were being silly picking these bright colors. But there you go. Now if only I can get my hands on mustard fabric.

  14. Love this post, Steph! Michelle Obama is a personal style icon for me, mainly for her use of color, well documented here, and for her classic, fitted, lady-like styles, though I can’t say I’d wear them all. My favorite color combination here is the bright orange dress with the short aqua cardigan– it’s just so strange, I would totally wear it, and I love how she owns it. I also admire her poise, character, intelligence, and convictions, and how she’s able to rise above all the crap. What a hero.

    • Hear, Hear! Yes, I love love that dress and cardi, too… I saw a few sites ripping into that, but I think it’s great. I love the way she mixes up colors. I was thinking I could pull off a similar combo, but I’d have to go for a blue red for my skin tone…

      Yes to everything you said! She has really conducted herself well despite all of the crap that’s gone one. I love her for that.

  15. Awesome stuff – colours and politics. I couldn’t agree more on the saturation aspect, and I will happily drool over her fabulous skin! I’m the exact opposite though – when I had my colours done, she said that ‘generally, if a colour is a shade that looks like a brighter colour with smoke in front of it, it’s going to be a good bet’. I have a very pale complexion/eye colour and relatively fair-ish hair – so I can’t pull off contrasting looks. Whilst Michelle has a much darker complexion than I, she also has low contrast – notice how all the colours she wears together are either all bold or all a bit soft? Never a mix of intensities. She’s definitely got someone who knows what they’re doing helping out in her wardrobe choices methinks ;)

    • That smoke comment is brilliant, a great way to explain saturation…

      And yes, either bold or soft… Well spotted on the “low contrast” between saturation types… Check out the orange dress with teal cardi.. Bit of contrast there, light and dark values but not intensity… Ohhh interesting.

      I have to wonder how much she dresses herself… Like… I can’t imagine anyone needed to give her a dramatic makeover and wardrobe overhaul when her husband decided to run for office… She seems to me the kind of lady who would have worked out long ago what her personal style is.. Maybe not. Hmm.. Now I want to go cyber stalk the First Lady some more!!

      edit: found it? that’s her stylist apparently…

      • I was going to say… she MUST have someone helping out… When you’re that important, surely you’ve got better (well, maybe not better, but with a higher priority instead perhaps) things to do that stand in front of the closet wondering what the hell to throw on today. Especially when all the world is watching!
        I just love the comment in that link: “Unlike the president, who just needs well-tailored suits, the first lady’s outfits require effort and thought”. It’s a delight and a curse to be a woman sometimes!!

  16. I’ve been looking at colour seasons recently and this post has heightened my decision to pay them no mind whatsoever! Everyone has such different ideas on what looks good and you can only please yourself. Myself, I don’t like Michelle Obama in orange or yellow and I only like some reds but I think blue, black, white and green are beautiful on her.

    • I suspect that “seasons” coloring is intended primarily for white ladies… And even then, it doesn’t work for many of us… (Though mine is bang-on…) I always figure it’s best to get inspiration from a variety of sources and then go with what works best… :)

      Well… Sometimes it’s easy to look at a color on someone else and have a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the color that might not have much to do with the wearer… I can see there’s a difference but I don’t think it’s bad… It’s all in our perception, isn’t it?

      I wish I could wear yellow that well, anyway.. ;)

      • I think the Seasons thing is meant for white people I just meant that universal agreement on what suits anyone is probably not going to happen and so sticking to something rigid like a system that gives you a very limited number of colours to wear is limiting and still not going to get universal agreement that those colours suit that person!

        Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re getting at in your second paragraph : (

        Not many people wear yellow well : )

        • Ack- sorry! Disambiguation: Personally, inside my own head, I’ve noticed that it’s easy (for me) to have a sort of knee-jerk reaction to a color *I* don’t wear… Like… There’s certain shades of greens and reds I sometimes look at and have the immediate, inexplicable reaction “yuck” and I think it’s because they don’t work for me… If that makes sense… I noticed it when I was fabric shopping with a friend who has dramatically different coloring to me… Our stacks of fabric were very differently colored and I thought uuuugh I wouldn’t wear that.. Then I realized, those colors look great on her… ;)

          If that makes any sense whatsoever… ;)

          No, there’s pretty much no record of universal agreement on anything in human history so I figure it’s a waste of time to hold out for it…

          I agree with you about yellow, though… In my quest to discover a way to wear yellow, I recently resorted to yellow nail polish… Sure, it’s obvious to me now that was a bad idea, but it could have worked!

          Sorry if I was confusing! Terrible writing in that comment…

  17. I do love and admire Mrs Obama’s style. I think she’s an amazing role model but fashion wise she manages to be elegant and stylish whilst being fresh and appropriate. Even the “misses” aren’t that bad.
    I also love these posts about colour. They are really inspiring me to play a little more with colour and stop sticking to “safe” black. I think this will really start to show when I’ve cleared the stash and am buying fabric again. Mrs Obama really shows that encompassing colour can be done.

    • Yes! Fresh and appropriate indeed…

      Oh good! I’m so pleased you’re finding inspiration here… I think I spent several years wearing all black, it’s really nice to wear color… :)

  18. I love her in the orange and the greens, mostly because those are so rarely worn and she wears them in an exciting and unusual way. I love her and am so happy to have a First Lady I understand on an intellectual and emotional level. I feel so protective of her and I’m so proud of her.

    • Yeah! I thought the same about the green- just wow wow wow… :)

      I know… It pisses me off when people talk smack about her… And it just sounds like so much sour grapes, doesn’t it? Especially the comments about her arms.. Jeez…

  19. Shortly after the Obamas began their first term — the family shares part of Mr. Obama’s service to the country, too! — I wrote to thank Mrs. Obama for one of the greatest sacrifice that her entire family had offered: the loss of personal privacy for the rest of their lives. Whether or not you agree with their politics, a President and his family make great personal sacrifices on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

    • How lovely you are! :) I’ve sent them a few notes, too, just wishing them well. I heard Senator Obama speak in 2007 at an event I worked, and was so moved by his message of unity and true patriotism.. I’ll never, ever forget that.

      And you’re right, they do make very great personal sacrifices. I wouldn’t want to be so scrutinized…

  20. Hi, first comment here, found you from Rhonda’s creative life. Great post. I liked the bright colours on Michelle but not so fond of the last dress (too pale) and the print is not flattering. How about a post on Quentin Brice? She is always dressed beautifully.

    • Thanks a bunch, Vicki. :) Rhonda’s so kind!

      I’ll keep an eye out and look into her life, thanks for the lead! She looks like a formidable yet graceful woman.. :)

  21. She is a woman of style. I love love the long white inaugural dress.
    Don’t know if the cut away shoulder look on a lot of her other dresses is all that flattering though.

  22. I love all of these dresses! The First Lady is so elegant and her style choices are always on point. It’s fun to see a somewhat younger woman in the White House– when I think of previous First Ladies, suits and pastels usually come to mind, and while of course those women looked nice, it’s more exciting to see dresses and outfits that are closer to what I would like to wear. These bright tones are gorgeous!

    The quote from Mrs. Obama’s speech is so beautiful (as was the entire speech)– it’s nice to be reminded that WE make history, every day, with our decisions and struggles.

  23. What stands out to me is that she wears *colors*. It struck me especially since I was used to the brighter colors of Texas and then moved back up north to the DMV where everyone is in browns, blacks, and grey. The first “blue” picture reminds me a lot of what you will see walking in downtown Washington.

    (And I will say, I am very much enjoying watching a entire show and not seeing a dozen campaign ads.)

  24. Oh, I’m so glad to see this post. I’ve been working on the campaign in a neighboring state (a battleground state), and I’m catching up on my blogs now that it’s over. This post is a good way to extend the glow.

    I love the dress she wore for her convention speech because it reminds me of a piece of Thai silk I gave my mom many years ago. But the dress I obsess about is the blue-green or green-blue dress she wore when the President announced his candidacy for re-election. It was another jewel-tone, and had a wonderful sleeve – a cut-on cap sleeve on top, that then curved way in to become almost a sleeveless cut. I didn’t see it on the Mrs.O site, unfortunately.

    I did see the dress Mrs. O was wearing on Oct. 9 when I saw her at a rally. I was fortunate enough to sit right behind her on the stage (with a lovely young woman from around Brisbane. She and 2 other political types came all the way from Australia to work on the campaign with us). Mrs O’s dress that day wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was pretty on her and demonstrated her sense of what cuts are flattering for her, and what accessories will work. She wore the most gorgeous gray suede over-the-knee boots with her boho-influenced dress! I was surprised to see how very slim Mrs. O is. I suspect the last 4 years, and especially the last 9 months have taken a lot from her.

    OK, I’m violating your rules a little bit, but I have to tell you that she is really an amazing lady. When she came onstage at our rally, it was probably her 2nd of three she had scheduled that day, each in a different state, And yet, while she was with us, she was really WITH us. She turned a collection of about 700 people in a county fair barn into a warm and intimate gathering of friends. She spoke extemporaneously and without notes for about 20 minutes, explaining why her husband wanted to be president, and the commitment of their family to give back to the country they love so much. By the end, thee were many tears in the room. If it weren’t that her family has already given so much, I would love to see her run in 2016.

    I’m sorry I got off-topic. I hope you’ll forgive me. It’s just been such an intense and uplifting 2 1/2 months, and it’s taking awhile to get back to my real life!


    • How lovely! I saw then-Senator Obama speak in Texas in 2007 and got a chance to shake his hand, he’s an amazing speaker… I am not at all surprised to find that Mrs O is like that. :) You made my day, actually, thanks for sharing.

      :) The “rules” were… Well… Just before election day, the internet is full of trolls and also rude people, and I do so hate to have to be unpleasant to rude people… So that’s the reason for the rules… ;) Now it’s all good, I think those who would want to be improper about our first lady have probably gone elsewhere for a while…

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