Pictures of Michelle Obama in Spain surfaced last week amid criticism that she was a “modern-day Marie Antoinette.” The Jean-Paul Gaultier top she wore for sight-seeing drew as much heat as the price of the trip. But by her side, an unlikely style star emerged: 9-year-old Sasha Obama. While the Obama entourage hoofed it through the coastal town of Ronda, Sasha looked comfortable in a pair of reasonably priced Nikes. She danced on the beach in a $25 Gap rainbow bathing suit. To lunch with the Spanish royal family on the Balearic island of Mallorca, Sasha showed up in a yellow J.Crew tutu and tank top, a wrist full of fake pearls, and a frayed blue lanyard dangling around her ankle. The whole look cost roughly $75. She was the very image of a normal American girl.
Click the Image for a Gallery of Sasha Obama’s Style
Since Obama took office last January, Sasha and Malia’s style has evolved in the public eye. When the girls appeared alongside their parents in Grant Park on Election Night, Sasha pulled heartstrings in a black baby-doll dress. The piece, by Gerson & Gerson, which retailed for $72 at Neiman Marcus and Dillard’s, was instantly renamed "The Sasha" by the designer.
Since then, the youngest Obama's classic style has evolved into one that designers hope girls will seek to emulate. Fashion experts say Sasha’s mixing and matching of layers and accessories is chiefly inspired by Michelle. “I suspect her fashion choices are basically picked by her mother—but of course most 9 year olds have their own feelings about these things,” says children’s fashion designer Lucy Sykes Rellie. “Certainly you can see her mom’s breezy confidence in the way Sasha carries herself.” Mary Tomer, who writes about Michelle Obama’s style on the popular blog Mrs. O., says that whenever she posts about Sasha, she sees an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. “A lot of women who admire Michelle Obama’s style also have children themselves, so they’re wondering where the Obama daughters are getting their clothes.”
• Kate Betts: Leave Michelle Obama’s Clothes AloneThis new appetite for all-things-Sasha may be due in large part to her wholesome look—one that is a sharp departure from the scandalous outfits of other teen and preteen role models. (Madonna and her daughter, Lourdes Leon, debuted a vaguely vampy junior’s collection at Macy’s last week, with 17-year-old grunge queen Taylor Momsen as its face.) “Sasha wears more grownup pieces and makes them look her age,” says Kristen Dolyzysnski, designer of girls’ knits and concept girl gender at Gap Kids. “It’s a good message for girls that you don’t have to look like someone not your age to look sophisticated.”
A few weeks after Chelsea Clinton’s couture Vera Wang wedding dress riveted the media, Sasha is sending the message that first daughter style can come on the cheap. The affordability of Sasha’s clothes, according to Mary Tomer, “makes Mrs. Obama and Sasha Obama all the more relatable.” She says that Sasha’s style choices communicate a “vibrant and playful—yet entirely unique—American childhood.”
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast based in Los Angeles.