01.14.09

How Sasha Obama Triggered a Hot Washington Fad

From Michelle’s sleeveless shift dresses to Sasha’s Uglydoll, the new first family is inadvertently generating new trends every time someone takes a photograph.

Not every First Family inspires copycats, but the Obamas seem to have the Kennedy touch when it comes to style. If they do it, others will follow—an observation not lost on savvy retailers for whom the Obama family is a stimulus package.

The newest item in Obamaware is a dinky stuffed thingy: an Uglydoll plush-toy keychain and, apparently, a favorite of one Sasha Obama. The Paper Source in Georgetown—homeland of the benighted cocktail set—is selling a basketful of the creatures on the checkout counter with this pitch: “As seen on Sasha Obama’s backpack.”

Will Obama's tenacious attachment to his BlackBerry—not an iPhone—boost sales for the less-cool, more grown-up device?

Sasha’s doll, called Babo’s Bird, looks like, well, a Babo’s Bird, whatever that is. It was photographed on her backpack as she trekked to her first day of school. Hers is bluish, though they come in other flavors and styles. Not wanting to seem like a shameless Sasha wannabe, I selected a green, horned Icebat, which now dangles impertinently from the zipper of my purse. Price: Just $6.60.

Not since Jackie O. made pearls and pillbox hats de rigueur has a First Lady had the contagious style of Michelle Obama. After 16 years of pantsuits that screamed Mao, she’s brought back the sleeveless shift dress with the kind of arms that whisper, “Psssst, personal trainer.” Thanks to Michelle’s nod toward “recessionista chic,” the economically aware woman—is there any other kind?—will be redisovering classics rather than chasing fashion.

It started last October when Michelle wore a bright yellow J. Crew skirt, sweater and blouse ensemble on The Tonight Show. The pleasantly surprised company immediately began advertising Michelle Obama’s Look. An online ad boasted, “All politics aside...  this outfit gets our vote,” and urged customers to buy now before it sold out. The Pembridge-dot pencil skirt ($148), Italian Deco tank ($99.99), and crystal-button colorblock cardigan ($89.99) were snapped up in no time as traffic to the J. Crew site increased 464 percent. I confess, I coveted that skirt—sold out before I got mine—but all politics aside?

Hardly. Michelle’s appearance followed closely on the red high heels of Sarah Palin’s Wardrobegate—the revelation that the National Republican Committee had spent more than $150,000 on clothes and makeup for Palin and her family. Voters computed that looking good needn’t be a privilege only of the very (or very recently) rich.

Even Barack Obama has brought a new look to America’s national campus: Ray-Ban sunglasses, cargo pants, and a baseball cap. Will his tenacious attachment to his BlackBerry—not an iPhone—boost sales for the less-cool, more grownup device?

Next on the list of Obama must-haves, obviously, will be the First Dog, now said to be a tossup between a Labradoodle and a Portuguese water hound, each weighing more than 55 pounds. Whichever they choose, millions of American children doubtless will be demanding one of their own. Parents can explain to their disappointed darlings that such dogs require a very large house and park-size yard. Oh, and staff.

After the dog, who knows? Depending on how things go in the first few months of a seriously challenged administration, Obama fashion may enjoy the lifespan of a fruitfly. There’s also the risk of overexposure.

Hark!

“Did I hear someone say Obama fatigue?” I dropped the Obama advent calendar I had been examining and rushed gleefully toward the three clerks behind the counter. Despite my attraction to a certain pencil skirt and my purchase of a child’s keychain, my inner cynic had begun to stir.

Crrrrrrrrr-ickets. By their stunned expressions, I inferred that I had accidentally said, “I hate puppies.”

“Oh, no,” said one of the young women to whiplashing nods of assent. “Not at all! No one said that!”

“Sorry! Gosh, how weird was that? I thought I heard someone…oh, never mind. Well, phew! Say, do you think two Uglydolls would be, you know, over the top?”

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and author of Save the Males.