Can Washington Fix Its Fashion Problem in Time for Inauguration?

Michelle Obama's new bangs will not make an entire city fashionable, but there remains hope, amidst the inaugural-ball scramble, that other people can. Hope!

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Yesterday the monumental news came down the pike. We waited, with bated breath, to see the photo. And there she was: Michelle Obama, First Lady of America, with bangs. She looks good! (I think Michelle Obama always looks good.) And bangs are hip, trendy, cool — hey, we all read the New York Times Thursday Styles, right? We know about Zoe Deschanel. We've heard about this Julius Caesar character. Audrey Hepburn! She had them, too. Bangs are where it's at. And Michelle Obama, stylish lady, now with bangs, lives in Washington, D.C. In the White House, of all places. So why is it that we're still going on and on and on about how totally unhip, unfashionable, and Mom-jeansified Washington, D.C., is? Is it because it's true? Or is this a trope that we simply wish to hold onto, for reasons of political gain?

I'm fully aware that one haircut does not make an entire city fashionable, and I'm also in full agreement that the First Lady was hot before the bangs. But there's an article today in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Williamson that would have us believe that D.C.'s political elite hail from some backwater fashion hole where ruching simply never arrived, where trends go to die, but don't even make it to live. This piece is about inaugural fashion prep, and how difficult it is (because it's in Washington, D.C.), and how much of a struggle it's been to "find inaugural ball gowns that defied Washington's button-down standard."

Williamson writes, "Many in Washington, the epicenter of political power, see high fashion as not only irrelevant, but downright suspect. Workaholics take a certain pride in looking like they slept in their clothes. A rakish fedora and cape, by contrast, recalls Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist. A daring dress means D.C. Madam."

The inauguration and its fancy ball turn the tables on all those standards, and people strain to break free from the constraints of their fashion world, yet fear doing so, questioning everything, suddenly as insecure as high schoolers going to a first prom. Williamson asks, rhetorically: "Do stripes convey sufficient solidity? To sequin or not to sequin? Is hair gel only for the shallow?" Some might say the odds are, in fact, stacked against such fashion-aspirers from the start. And some did:

"The beauty of D.C. is the culture," said makeup artist Erwin Gomez, but "I see terrible eyebrows."


Even though a stream of new blood into the capital imparts the hope that savvy youngsters will take hold of D.C.'s rickety fashion ship and steer her right, those kids totally missed out on how hip nautical might have been and instead often cleave to the norms just like their elders: pantyhose, navy, grey, blazers — fleece, I'd guess, for after-hours. Only the most creative and staunchly independent have any hope of survival against the rooted anti-fashion psychologies of the city (you would believe, from this article).

But there is hope of a sort; there may be change. A D.C. cosmetic surgeon told Williamson that for much of memorable D.C. history, people have wanted to look terrible! The city had actually attracted "an older, more homogenous crowd that took pride in a certain kind of haggard look." Now people are coming to their senses and accepting his services, and they're distinctly less frowny.

A groundswell of change may be literally at foot:

Celebrity hairstylist Luigi Parasmo said he has noticed that "guys are going to beauty salons instead of barbers. Younger guys' girlfriends tell them, 'go get a manicure and cut your green toenails.' It's a major trend for Washington."

Of course, when the trend is getting one's toenails cut, perhaps there's still room to grow. But it's not impossible that this is all some sort of deliberate fashion conspiracy, a rooted movement among a fervent group who may not even be the majority to remain in times past. After all, we've all seen Michelle Obama's bangs. Change is possible!

Inset via AP/The White House, Lawrence Jackson.

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