Make Your Clothing Match Your Content

First and Second LadyThere’s a Public Service Announcement playing here in the States that features the First and Second Ladies talking about supporting the military and military families. While I’m all for the message, the commercial irritates me every time it’s on because of how they’re dressed.

Mrs. Obama is in a brow, white, and blue cotton dress that looks like she’s getting ready to have lunch with some girlfriends. Mrs. Biden is in a light blue satin dress that looks like she’s on her way to an afternoon wedding or evening cocktails. While both dresses are pretty enough, they don’t work with each other OR the message.

Coordinating day dresses in dark or patriotic colors would have been more appropriate, in my opinion. Military blue or green or the old red, white, and blue would reinforce their message and show their support. What they chose does neither of those things. It just looks like they popped in to film the PSA on their way to go do other things.

Jacqueline Kennedy would never have made that mistake. From her inaugural day ensemble to her funeral clothes, she thought about EVERY outfit she wore as First Lady. It’s actually kind of cerebral.

For example:

The Kennedy Inauguration

Inaugural day outfit (by Oleg Cassini).

The Kennedy Inauguration

She knew every other woman there would be in a fur coat, and many were. So she chose a wool coat with a pillbox hat to stand out from the crowd and present a new, vibrant image.

The Inaugural gala

Inaugural gala ball gown by Oleg Cassini. (Photo courtesy of JFKLibrary.org)

The cockade on the waist was a nod to her French heritage and to her love of history. Washington’s soldiers wore black cockades during the Revolutionary War. When the Marquis de Lafayette joined them, he wore a black and white cockade to show his loyalty to both Washington and the French king, Louis XVI.

Mrs. Kennedy in Canada

Visiting Canada, May 1961 (ensemble by Oleg Cassini). She wore the colors of the Canadian Mounted Police, and they were delighted.

Mrs. Kennedy at Versailles

Dinner at Versailles with French President de Gualle, June, 1961. Her Givenchy gown was a hit.

Mrs. Kennedy giving televised tour of the White House

TV tour of the White House, February, 1962. She wore red, because it was Valentine’s Day.  (Suit by Oleg Cassini.)

State dinner in Mexico

State dinner with the Mexican President, May, 1962. Light blue gown is reminiscent of the tropics. (Dress by Oleg Cassini.)

President Kennedy's funeral

November, 1963: Funeral ensemble by Givenchy. The long veil was a nod to the French and Italian way of mourning.

She though through everything. The only one who’s come close since is the Duchess of Cambridge.

Lady Diana Spencer and Kate Middleton engagement pictures

November, 2010: Her dark blue engagement announcement dress was reminiscent of Diana’s engagement announcement ensemble. Both highlighted the sapphire and diamond engagement ring.

Kate Middleton and Grace Kelly Wedding dresses

April, 2011: Her wedding dress is reminiscent of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress, of another commoner who married a prince.

The Duchess of Cambridge in Canada

July, 2011: In Canada, wearing Canadian colors with a Canadian Maple leaf on her hat and lapel pin.

The Duchess of Cambridge and the Princess of Wales after giving birth to their first child

July, 2013: The steps of St. Mary’s after Prince George’s birth. Her blue and white polka dot dress is reminiscent of Diana’s after Prince Williams’ birth.

See the thought that went into these? It’s just that little extra effort that makes them so memorable.

Prince William has said repeatedly that he wished his mother could be here for all these milestones. Well, Kate is channeling Diana in her own way, in a loving gesture to her husband. It’s incredibly touching.

That’s what I want you to think about.

If you’re dressing for something really special or that will be captured forever on film, what can you do to bring more to the table and pay homage to someone else?

There’s a viral video making the rounds of the girl who wore her grandmother’s prom dress to her own prom this year. When she shows her grandmother before the big event, her grandmother breaks down in tears. It’s so very sweet – and thoughtful. It’s a bond they’ll forever share.

So getting back to ways you can make your clothing match your words:

  • If you’re saying something serious, dark colors convey that.
  • If you’re being light and cheerful, light colors convey that.
  • If you’re paying homage to a particular group, wearing something they deeply relate to will instantly engender you to them.

But you need to be subtle about it. Whisper, don’t shout.

Mrs. Kennedy in CanadaMrs. Kennedy in Canada

The Duchess of Cambridge in CanadaThe Duchess of Cambridge in Canada

Each is wearing her distinct style, with a nod to her audience. It’s clever. People like clever. So be clever when it comes to your clothes.

So what’s the bottom line?

Think before you dress.

Who’s your audience? What’s their history? What are their favorite colors? Symbols? Traditions? If you think in those terms, not only will your clothing match your content, you’ll also be able to win friends and influence people.

Try it yourself and see!

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Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton Sikes is an image consultant and author of Wardrobe Magic. Want to find the best clothes for your body, budget, and lifestyle? Wardrobe Magic can help.

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12 Comments

  • picky bee-eye

    Reply Reply May 8, 2015

    I’m a fan of your content, but this is too much. Ease up. They look fine for a public service announcement. Nothing wrong with what these ladies wore.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 8, 2015

      Hi Picky bee-eye – I disagree. The dresses are fine on their own and for the occasions I suggested, but not for this message. I find it a distraction that Mrs. Biden is wearing a party dress.

  • Linda Plager

    Reply Reply May 8, 2015

    Diana,
    I completely agree with your analysis! and I learned so much from your article.
    Thanks!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 8, 2015

      Hi Linda – glad you enjoyed it! Thanks!

  • NicW

    Reply Reply May 8, 2015

    I agree Diana. I watched your webinar on business dressing yesterday (I’m in Australia) and found it so helpful to reinforce my preference for formal business wear. Even though I am a student and at home with my boys, when I return to the workforce I won’t regret buying luxury items second hand at all.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 8, 2015

      Hi Nicolle – glad you enjoyed the webinar. Thanks for your input!

  • Tracy

    Reply Reply May 8, 2015

    Having seen them both impeccably dressed for many occasions, I don’t conside this a “miss”. From a different perspective, I could possibly believe that perhaps they may have had other engagements and actually did put aside what they were doing to show up. Everything in life isn’t always so calculated……even when you are political officials’ spouses. They still are individuals with personal roles that they fulfill and reflect. They look friendly, approachable, and like women one could easily identify with.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 9, 2015

      Tracy – they HAVE been well dressed on many occasions, which is why this one irritates me. Even if they did drop everything to come shoot this – which I highly doubt since you don’t gather a film crew on a moment’s notice – they knew it would be forever captured on video and replayed countless times. I’m not saying it’s awful; I’m saying they could have done a better job. They could have given more thought to the subject matter.

      My father devoted 21 years of his life to the Air Force, and my family moved around the world and spent long periods of time separated from him as he served his country. He missed seeing his children grow up. During wartime, my mother started every day wondering if it would be his last. So did the rest of his family.

      So, in my opinion, a flowered dress and a cocktail dress just doesn’t capture the worry, heartache, and hardship that comes from being a soldier or having one in the family. As I said in the article, their dresses are pretty enough, but inappropriate for this subject matter. I, for one, would have appreciated a more thoughtful approach. Just saying.

  • Julie

    Reply Reply June 26, 2016

    I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for the affirmation that how you look affects how people will think of you. People like to say that how you look isn’t important, it’s how you feel that is important. That attitude gives people an easy way out of having a good wardrobe. If I’m not dressed well or didn’t wear makeup because I was in a hurry, I feel that. I hope that other people don’t notice, but in the back of my mind – I know it. Shan I was 20 years younger, I had my suits altered to fit well before I wore them to work or an interview. Having lived out West for 12 years, I’ve really let thing slide. This is due, in part, to attracting sometimes negative attention if you dress up for work or for anything. I became lazy and even stopped wearing the nice button-up blouses I was known for wearing to work everyday in the Midwest. When I moved to Colorado and wore the same clothes to work, it drew attention. I succumbed to the denim and fleece way of dressing. It was a big change, but it was so much easier and less expensive. Twelve years later, I have to start listening to the part of me again that says “You know this isn’t right. You know what you should be wearing, that you need to trim your hair and wear all of your makeup.” Even if other people don’t notice how I look, or claim to not judge people by how they look, I know better. Take the good with the bad, and know that there will be people who are envious of how you look and are upset because you make them feel bad about themselves. Before long, you’ll notice them dressing better even though they disapproved of it earlier. I am trying to break into a new career, and it is very difficult for me because I’m older and have no professional experience in this new field. I’m fondly remembering those days when I wouldn’t be caught in a suit jacket that didn’t fit well (shoulders too wide, sleeves too long.) I’m heading to the atelier after my next suit purchase. It isn’t difficult to look good, you just have to put in a little extra time.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply June 26, 2016

      Hi Julie – all is SO true! It’s easy to “let things slide” when no one else is dressing properly. But, as you said, it hurts your chance for advancement. Go for you for “going with your gut”! Good luck on the job hunt!

  • Nancy Molstad

    Reply Reply July 21, 2016

    I noticed in the photo of the Kennedy inauguration that the women in fur coats were clutching their collars and covering up. Mrs. Kennedy did no such mannerism and added more class and ease to her image by not clutching or acting cold, as if she were there for the occasion and not to react to the weather.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 23, 2016

      The weather that day was literally freezing – it was 22 F. Oleg Cassini designed Mrs. Kennedy’s coat, and when he learned that the temperature was going to be that cold, his team added an extra layer for warmth. That’s why Mrs. Kennedy looks calm, cool, and collected.

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