First Lady Arms Race
Michelle’s sartorial savvy may have caught the world by surprise, but is she the chicest first lady in the world?
The media’s interest in Michelle Obama’s fashion sense has reached a fever pitch, with everyone from Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley to the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd penning pieces both supporting and condemning her sartorial choices. (Not to mention Mrs. O moonlights as cover girl of the New Yorker’s bi-annual style issue.) From her penchant for pairing designers unfamiliar to mainstream Americans with staples like J.Crew and H&M, to her buff, bare biceps, the country can’t get enough of the first lady’s style sense. But, Mrs. Obama is by no means the only fashionable woman wedded to a head of state. View our picks of the world’s chicest First Ladies—from Queen Rania of Jordan and Mehriban Aliyeva of Azerbaijan, to the inimitable Carla Bruni of France, with plenty of bare shoulders to boot.
Queen Rania al Abdullah
For Jordanian royalty, Queen Rania al Abdullah’s fashion sense is as decidedly Western as it is youthful (she is only 38 years old). She has been dubbed a fashion icon for her favoritism of high-end designers like John Galliano (of Dior) and Philip Lim, whom she considers friends. In addition to making waves with her stunning natural beauty, Queen Rania has garnered quite a bit of attention for spearheading an ongoing series of YouTube videos where she addresses issues concerning women living in the Middle East.
It goes without saying that model-turned-chanteuse-turned-first-lady Carla Bruni is a style maven. Though perpetually clad in flats now that she’s married to French President Nicolas Sarkozy (she stands a full 4 inches taller barefoot), Bruni hasn’t lost her taste for designer clothing. For finer affairs she typically supports Parisian designers like John Galliano or Jean Paul Gaultier. And the statuesque brunette has even been credited with bettering the fashion sense of her high-powered husband.
Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, isn’t afraid to let her hair down (literally: Mrs. Brown consistently wears her shoulder-length brown shag loose and relatively unstyled)—an aspect of her persona that surely translates to her signature style. While she is apt to dress a bit more on the conservative side, she’s no stranger to discount, high-street style (arguably one of London’s most sought-after exports). On a recent visit to the White House, Mrs. Brown sported a beret purchased at Topshop, the same retailer from which she bought frocks as gifts for Sasha and Malia Obama.
Russia’s first lady is well-known for having a taste for the finer things in life. An ardent supporter of Russian designers, she regularly takes in fashion shows, has a closet brimming with haute couture and consistently tops ‘best dressed’ lists. And, talk about flesh-baring: Russia’s first lady isn’t shy about showing off a fair bit of cleavage, making Michelle Obama’s bare shoulders pale in comparison. No wonder her husband, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, says he fell in love with the chic blonde when they were in the seventh grade together in St. Petersburg.
The wife of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Chicago-born and US-educated Kateryna Yushchenko leans more toward the traditional and conservative when it comes to fashion (you won’t see her donning Jason Wu). What you will see her wearing is contemporary Ukrainian designers, just as Mrs. Obama does with Americans stateside. And, like the US First Lady, Yushchenko understands how to dress in a way that flatters her figure (she highlights her waist at its thinnest part and doesn’t shy away from color or texture to keep things interesting).
Stylistically speaking, the first lady of Azerbaijan seems to have a bit of an Audrey Hepburn obsession, which suits her just fine. The black-haired beauty and mother of three typically wears her long tresses in a tight bun, accenting her very fortunate bone structure (which she further highlights with elegant pearls or diamonds). Typically outfitted in a feminine, flirty dress, Mrs. Aliyeva is neither fearful of showing off her enviable figure, nor highlighting her bronzed complexion with color.
Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner
Former first lady Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner, who became president of Argentina in 2007, is notorious for her love of designer goods and occasionally outlandish shopping trips. Her inimitable style (both sartorially and politically speaking) has even earned her nicknames like the “New Evita.” The president isn’t shy when it comes to donning makeup, statement jewelry, or sleek suit separates. She also shares a signature-style tendency with Michelle Obama—that of a tiny waist cinched in by an extra-wide belt.
In many ways, Michelle Obama’s style mirrors that of Syria’s first lady, Asma al-Assad. The 33-year-old mother of three is partial to well-tailored suits, feminine skirts, simple sweater and trouser combinations for less-formal affairs, and is especially politically active. When it comes to accessories, Asma al-Assad is, like Michelle, a fan of oversized necklaces.
Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned of Qatar has gained a reputation worldwide for both her political activities and her distinctive beauty. The wife of the Emir of Qatar never appears in public without a head-covering hijab, which she consistently matches to her eye-catching ensembles. She is seemingly as comfortable in sequin and lace-embellished haute couture as a tuxedo suit channeling Yves Saint Laurent circa 1966.
Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein
The junior wife of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates’ two wives, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein is an avid equestrian and Oxford University grad. But she also has a unique, modern style thanks to her ability to seamlessly blend East and West. The princess typically opts for well-tailored trousers and jackets, or, when the occasion calls for it, a statement-making, brightly colored gown.
Alisa Gould-Simon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor of The Daily Beast’s Fashion Week coverage. She also covers fashion and culture for BlackBook, New York and PAPER.
Editor's Note: This article originally identified Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein's husband as the President of the United Arab Emirates—he is the ruler.