Could Meghan Markle be the fashion world’s next Michelle Obama?

Ever since Michelle Obama left the White House earlier this year, and stepped a bit farther from the public eye, there has been a void. Who is the very famous woman to look up to in terms of effortless, enviable American style?

Melania Trump could have naturally filled this gap. But with each passing week as first lady, it’s clear that she is a far different kind of style icon than Michelle Obama. What made Obama’s fashion magnetic was a mixture of a few things: a simple chicness, an attention to trends and sometimes a price point accessible to more than the 1%, making her style seem relatable and attainable.

The ensembles she put together were ensembles you could feasibly wear to work, or hanging out with girlfriends. As first lady, she wore cardigans, skinny jeans and affordable brands, like J.Crew on Inauguration Day.

Related: Cost difference between two FLOTUS' outfits:
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Cost difference between Melania Trump's and Michelle Obama's outfits
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Cost difference between Melania Trump's and Michelle Obama's outfits

Campaigning at political conventions

Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention: $2,190 Roksanda dress and $675 Christian Louboutin heels.

Trump made headlines after buying a Roksanda "Margot" dress from Net-a-Porter. The $2,190 dress sold out less than an hour after her speech.

She paired the dress with $675 Christian Louboutin heels.

Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention: $995 dress by Christian Siriano and $675 metallic Jimmy Choo heels.

Obama's blue dress was extremely similar to a $995 cobalt-blue dress made by Siriano, a designer who rose to prominence after appearing on "Project Runway." Siriano reportedly custom-made the dress Obama wore as she gave her "they go low, we go high" speech.

Her silver Jimmy Choo heels, spotted by Footwear News, cost $675.

Meeting with foreign leaders

Melania Trump at the G-7 summit: $53,130 Dolce & Gabbana outfit.

Trump made headlines when she wore a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana jacket to a meeting with the spouses of some of the most powerful world leaders at the annual G-7 summit in Catania, Italy, in May. While we couldn't identify the first lady's dress and shoes, her bag was also Dolce & Gabbana and costs $1,630.

The first lady has worn Dolce & Gabbana on numerous occasions. The designer Stefano Gabbana has been extremely receptive of the support, posting many pictures of Trump in Dolce & Gabbana outfits on his Instagram.

Michelle Obama at the G-20 summit: $474 J. Crew outfit.

Obama also made headlines on her first trip to the United Kingdom as the first lady in 2009, thanks to her casual yet fashionable looks. The Guardian described her outfits, many of which were from J. Crew, as "a pitch of sunny, homely optimism, rather than sparkling glamour." 

One of Obama's most memorable outfits of the trip was the one she wore to meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Fox News reported that the cardigan cost $298, the tank top $18, and the mint-green pencil skirt $158.

Charity work

Melania Trump at an abuse-prevention nonprofit: $1,150 pair of sandals to complete an otherwise low-key look.

Footwear News reported (somewhat snarkily) that Trump wore a $1,150 pair of Rene Caovilla sandals to visit HomeSafe in April. Trump also wore a $225 pair of L'Agence Margot jeans and an unidentified khaki shirt.

Michelle Obama at a food bank: $540 pair of sneakers to complete an otherwise low-key look.

In 2009, Obama caused some controversy when she wore a $540 pair of Lanvin sneakers to volunteer at a food bank with Jill Biden. She paired them with a $188 J. Crew sweater.

Around the White House

Melania Trump's move-in outfit: $14,270.

While her son, Barron, got most of the press coverage when he and his mother officially moved into the White House in June, Melania wore $575 Bally wide-legged trousers, a $595 pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps, and a Dolce & Gabbana tank that probably cost at least $100. She finished the look with a Hermes Birkin bag, estimated to cost $13,000.

Michelle Obama's J. Crew in the garden: $257.50.

Vogue said in its review of Obama's 2012 book, "American Grown": "Throughout the book, the first lady, always beautifully coiffed, wears a different J. Crew sweater to match the season (marigold yellow for summer, argyle for fall)."

$29.50 shirt and a $228 jacket are just two of the many examples of the first lady wearing J. Crew in the garden.

Joint addresses to Congress

Melania Trump at a 2017 joint address to Congress: $5,000 Michael Kors suit jacket.

Trump's Michael Kors look cost an estimated $9,600, combining a black blazer that cost $5,000 and a matching skirt priced at $4,600.

Michelle Obama at the 2015 State of the Union: $1,595 Michael Kors suit jacket.

In 2015, Obama wore a suit that had been featured on CBS's political drama "The Good Wife."The $1,595 jacket quickly sold out after the first lady wore it to the State of the Union address.

Vacation

Melania Trump's return from Camp David: $303 J. Crew and J Brand.

Trump recently proved that Obama wasn't the only first lady getting clothes from J. Crew. In late August, she returned from Camp David wearing a $75 pink top from the retailer.

Yahoo Style reported that she paired the top with $228 pink J Brand jeans and pink patent-leather flats that we couldn't trace (though Vanity Fair reports they're Manolo Blahniks).

Michelle Obama exiting Air Force One in shorts: ?

Obama faced serious backlash after being spotted leaving Air Force One for a hike of the Grand Canyon in 2009 wearing shorts. Four years later, Obama called the shorts incident one of her biggest fashion regrets.

While Time notes that no brand ever "stepped forward" to claim the "unflattering" shorts, the entire outfit looks very J. Crew. In any case, it's safe to say it wasn't too expensive.

Inauguration — and why the numbers don't tell the full story

Trump's fashion picks tend to be more expensive than Obama's. But that's not the full story.

First, there's the question of custom-made dresses.

For the past three inaugurations, the first lady wore a custom-made look. (Obama wore Jason Wu both times, and Trump wore a Herve Pierre gown.) Trump has reportedly struggled to find designers willing to work with her. Meanwhile, many of Obama's most iconic looks are made specifically for her and are priceless, such as a custom-made Versace gown with a theoretical price tag of $12,000.

Then there's the question of why it even matters. First ladies' outfits are not paid for with taxpayer dollars. You could be horrified that anyone could buy a coat that costs more than the average American makes in a year. But if you're going to criticize Trump for wearing $1,000 shoes, you have to criticize Obama as well.

Melania Trump's 2017 Inauguration Ball gown: priceless, custom-made Herve Pierre.

Michelle Obama's 2013 Inauguration Ball gown: priceless, custom-made Jason Wu.

That isn't to say that the first ladies' fashion choices don't matter.

Both Trump and Obama can afford to wear expensive clothing — especially when designers are giving it away. How they dress as first ladies, however, is a series of calculated, strategic decisions.

Obama used fashion to appear as an accessible yet aspirational "mom-in-chief," despite her unique position: the most academically accomplished first lady in history, the first African-American first lady, and the first to be the frequent subject of racist attacks.

So far in her public life, Trump has never had to try to be relatable.

Ivanka Trump, as the founder of a fashion brand for working women, has dabbled in more inexpensive looks while maintaining her fashionista credentials. But Melania and her husband have long embodied a more gold-plated, luxe version of the American dream than the Obamas.

It's a version of opulence that repulses many, especially progressives. But it's also a luxury-oriented style of self-presentation that helped make the Trump family famous.

That may be shifting, with Melania sporting some less-expensive outfits such as her pink J. Crew vacation look. The first lady — along with the rest of the White House — knows the power of clothing and will continue to use it as a strategy to affect how she and the Trump administration are perceived.

If the American people tire of opulence, Melania is likely to try her hand at relatability, even if that means leaving the Dolce & Gabbana in her closet. At the end of the day, first-lady fashion is about the message, not the price tag.

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Trump’s style is mostly not that, with her affinity for outrageous coats worn over her shoulders and dresses with labels like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, which give her an untouchable, intimidating aura.

So who’s to fill Obama’s shoes? That would be Meghan Markle, a woman who has stepped into the public eye that we feel has the potential to fill the Michelle Obama-sized gap in the American fashion world.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during an official photocall to announce their engagement in London Source: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

 

Looking first at the outfit she wore announcing her engagement to Prince Harry on Monday, we see glimmers of Michelle. The dress was a simple green sheath from the unknown Italian brand PAROSH, which began as a brand repurposing secondhand garments, and the white coat was from the also relatively unknown Canadian brand Line the Label. (We believe Markle wore the dress for her BBC interview too.)

Both of these are brands that we admittedly had no idea existed until this very moment. But similar to Obama, the outfit set off a frenzy online, with the New York Times reporting that people rushing to buy the white coat caused Line the Label’s website to crash.

This is the kind of thing that Obama would do all the time. She’d wear a relatively unknown designer and skyrocket them into fame. It happened to Jason Wu, who she enlisted to design both of her inaugural gowns, Prabal Gurung and for brands like Cushnie et Ochs.

There’s a message in outfits like this. Like Obama, Markle has her sight set on a different kind of style than Trump. She’s not looking at labels or brands or a certain level of luxury, per say, but at the designs themselves. She’s carving out her own classic, elegant aesthetic that’s soon going to be fit for a 21st-century princess.

It’s trendy, modern and sometimes super casual (going so far as wearing ripped jeans), like Obama’s style often was.

Related: Meghan's best posts

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Meghan Markle's best Instagrams
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Meghan Markle's best Instagrams
Happy Halloween, friends 🎃👻 #Halloween #pumpkin
Tree trimming bliss with my favorites. Love you @benitalitt (& D) @heatherdorak + my fairy god-daughters #theresnoplacelikehome #californialove
A moment of zen #adoptdontshop #weekend
Sign up for the presale for my fall capsule collection for @Reitmans! The essential fall uniform I designed for work or play 😘 #MMxReitmans (on sale next week!! http://bit.ly/1qVx66l) #fashion
Happy Sunday 💕 #adoptdontshop
I wrote an article that's near and dear to my heart - I hope you'll take a little time to read it today! Would be most grateful 💫Link in bio and right here: http://thetig.com/how-to-be-both/ #bethechange (photo cred @gaborjurina )
Regram from my website @thetigofficial 💫 Find out my answer to the question I get asked most (link in bio) & right here 👉🏽http://thetig.com/how-to-be-both/ #bethechange #grateful (photo cred: @gaborjurina )
The closest I will ever come to channeling @Beyonce. #hotsauceinmybagswag #actually #just #hotsauceinmybag 😂 (photo cred: @jessicamulroney)
My loves #adoptdontshop #happysunday
Another #BTS from my cover shoot for @lifestylemag #NYC #photoshoot 💫
#TBT to my solo trip to @sfhmembers #treatyourself #UK #sohohouse #farmhouse
Because lunch with @roland_mouret is the very best kind of lunch ❤️ You were missed @anderson_markus xx #kiki
Cheating on bogart & guy with this little muffin 🙈 #adoptdontshop
#TBT to Capri with @jessicamulroney 🍝 @thetigofficial #pasta #italy #takemeback
Weekend shenanigans with @jessicamulroney (wearing my very favorite button down from @mishanonoo) 👍🏽
#BTS from @oneyoungworld last night talking politics, social issues & life w/ @justinpjtrudeau (you were SO missed Sophie, @jessicamulroney @benmulroney 👌🏽👌🏽) photo cred: @afinsky #OYW #Ottawa
Oh hey @abigailspencer 👯
And just like that - one month of travel is done. Feeling so so blessed and grateful! Thank you to my sweet friends who joined me on the adventure. It's been absolutely perfect. Sending so much love #wanderlust #travel ✈️
Finally back and surprised by the very best welcome home! You guys are amazing!! In tears. More grateful than you can imagine for all of the kindness and well wishes. Sending so much love for my birthday book! WOW ❤️❤️
The last hoorah! My month of wanderlust is coming to an end. Feeling so grateful for the entire experience and all the friends who have joined me along the way ✌🏼️
Lunch with @jessicamulroney and the pups makes me a happy gal #homesweethome
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This white coat outfit also tells us that she will be unpredictable in what she wears for a while. That’s a contrast to Trump, who has a uniformity among her style choices over her nearly one year in office. She wears coats over her shoulders and pencil skirts and shades like black, white, beige and pink.

But with Markle, there’s an unpredictablity and sense of experimentation, which is a result of both her age and not having a bank account akin to Trump’s. Her style profile is evolving with the times and trends. She probably won’t be wearing much classic Chanel or Dior, like Trump, but will be going for less major designers and brands that are attractive to her.

We saw her doing this even before she became a soon-to-be princess. At New York Fashion Week, she wasn’t attending shows akin to Dior or Calvin Klein, but Peter Som and Tracy Reese, who was actually a favorite of Obama’s too.

Meghan Markle at the Tracy Reese show at New York Fashion Week in 2013Source: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

What’s hopeful as well is that Markle knows fashion, and American fashion, very well. She once led her own lifestyle blog — the now defunct the Tig — that focused on travel, food, fashion and beauty.

According to Aurora James, the founder of the very hip and charitable brand Brother Vellies that employs people in developing African countries, the Tig was one of the first outlets to cover the brand.

Aurora James on Instagram Source: Instagram

Markle knows good, interesting fashion when she sees it.

In a world where American fashion is almost always missing Michelle, Markle could fit right in.

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