NEW YORK | Michelle Obama's to-do list before Jan. 20 surely is long, and somewhere on it must be choosing her inaugural wardrobe.
Whatever Michelle Obama wears first to the ceremony and then the ball celebrating her husband Barack as the 44th president, she and her outfits will instantly become two of the longest-lasting images of modern history.
And there'll be global reviews from real style insiders as well as armchair critics mere seconds after the public gets its first glimpse of the new first lady, who is already considered a fashion icon. To this day, people still talk about Jackie Kennedy and her stunning white gown with a chiffon-covered beaded bodice and her regal full-length cape.
This isn't a fashion decision to take lightly, says Bridget Foley, executive editor of W magazine and Women's Wear Daily, recommending Obama try on many looks before making her final choice.
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"The dress will live in perpetuity and it will go into the Smithsonian," Foley says.
"I'd like to see Michelle Obama take the elegant route — and push it," she adds. "There are so many wonderful clothes out there but so often people in the public arena think they have to play it safe. I think she should really look around and try something long and curvy — with color. That would work."
A strong color, symbolic of a strong, confident woman, was a consistent answer as from fashion designers asked about their vision for Obama and special gown. Other suggestions:
— Badgley Mischka: There should be a little beading or embroidery on her gown to fully bring the dress to life, says Mark Badgley, but it shouldn't be overdone — that would detract from Obama's modernity.
"She can bring a breath of fresh air to Washington, and she can bring a youthfulness to first-lady attire," partner James Mischka says.
They envision her in something like a turquoise gazar gown from their upcoming spring collection. It's a strapless silhouette, with guipere lace down the front and a fishtail hem.
"An inaugural gown has to be important and breathtaking," Badgley says.
Lilac and berry shades, as well as tangerine and ocean blues would all be lovely options, they say, but they'd advise her to steer clear of black. "She should look a little more 'up,'" Badgley says.
As for the Obamas' daughters Malia and Sasha, the designers say their outfits should reflect their ages — 10 and 7, respectively, and not be too glamorous. Ruffles would be good, and so would a color that coordinated with their mothers' choice, Mischka says.
— Tracy Reese: Reese says she met Obama at a fundraiser and was impressed with the way she carried herself — and her clothes. "She'd look awesome in something shapely and fitted," Reese says.
"I'd serve up something with color, a nicely fitted bodice and some ease through the skirt so she could be comfortable but be feminine."
Obama successfully achieves the balance of wearbility and style on a regular basis, Reese says. "She likes fashion but her day is long, so her time for clothes is short."
— J.Crew: No one was as surprised as Jenna Lyons, creative director, when Obama appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in an outfit that Obama declared was purchased online from J.Crew.
Other than pride, Lyons says that experience gave her the feeling that Obama would bring to the White House the sensibility of a modern working mother.
As for a gown, Lyons would like to think that J.Crew could be a contender.
"We do chinos and T-shirts but we also do bridal so we understand about the big day ... and this is the biggest coming out party in the history of the world," Lyons says, noting she's already called the brand's best fabric vendors seeking swatches.
"I'd go with something simple, elegant, colorful — something to play up her strong shoulders and beautiful skin."
— Zac Posen: Posen created a Web site ahead of the election called Fashion the Vote, encouraging voters to dress up when they went to the polls.
He'd turn up the volume even more for the first lady in a bright color and harness "the power of shape and structure."
— Anna Sui: Sui, a favorite with young party girls, suggests an hourglass, A-line cocktail dress from her spring runway. It has a white background with a sophisticated, graphic floral print in black and white.
It "runs the gamut from trendy to conservative," Sui says in an e-mail, but it's also a youthful cocktail length.
— Best & Co.: Catherine Moellering, president of childrenswear label Best & Co., says she'd take cues from their mother in dressing Malia and Sasha in styles that can be worn on multiple occasions and still always hit the appropriate note.
For Malia, she advises separates — perhaps a bubble skirt and cashmere twin-set sweater. "It's a little more chic, and you don't feel like you're in the dress your little sister is wearing," Moellering says.
She sees the girls wearing jewel-tone blues. The color and fabric, maybe taffeta, would make them coordinated but they shouldn't match.
Of course Sasha's dress needs a high twirl factor. "She's just going to capture everyone's heart. She should look like a princess with a bow and petticoats," Moellering says.
"If you look at the way Michelle dresses, she developed her sense of style early on and I think it will be the same for these girls."