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Michelle Obama's style closely watched

The dress worn by Michelle Obama on Election Night prompted much discussion on the Internet and among fashion aficionados.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: I'm wearing blue jeans and a wrinkled, button-down shirt right now. Which is fine. Because, A) this is radio, and B) it's not like anybody's going to look to me for fashion tips.

Not so, though, for the woman whose husband just won the White House. Michele Obama's clothes started to get a whole lot of attention this past summer. And there is now big buzz about who's going to dress her for the inauguration.

To help figure out what that might mean for clothing retailers we've called Kate Betts. She's the editor-in-chief of Time's Style & Design.

Kate, good to talk with you.

KATE BETTS: Thanks for having me.

RYSSDAL: Give us the layman's version, since I am a fashion layman, of Michelle Obama's style.

BETTS: Well, I think she has very chic, very grown-up, very American style. She loves color. She loves prints. She loves to support young, American designers, which I think is fantastic. I think she also appreciates value, which is something that the whole consumer public can appreciate right now. She wore that White House, black market dress on The View. It was a $148 dress and it was great looking. And she also wore J Crew a few times, and people identify with that.

RYSSDAL: And J Crew, in fact, sets up its own page on the website devoted to Michelle Obama's style, right?

BETTS: I think they responded very quickly to that. And I heard that they had a lot of customer response to that, so...

RYSSDAL: I bet they did. Let's take this to the higher end, though. The inaugural balls are coming up. The inauguration itself. How heavy is the frenzy to dress this woman for all these big parties?

BETTS: Well, I think the people who are being seriously considered are being quite low-key about it. And I think some of the designers that she has preferred in the past, like Narciso Rodriguez, Thakoon Panichgul -- who goes under the label of just Thakoon -- I'm sure that they are whipping stuff up for her. But they're not talking about it too much, so ...

RYSSDAL: What would that translate into, though, in terms of sales for these designers and, more importantly, down the fashion food chain? How would that work?

BETTS: Sales for designers, it probably is very important for them, also in terms of exposure. Both of those designers I mentioned before are, you know, they're well know but, you know, this gives them real international exposure. And I think that, down the food chain, I think it's something that people will pick up on. Hopefully, people will embrace her clean, chic look that's quite optimistic, I think.

RYSSDAL: Is there a chance that this could be sort of a retail bright spot in an otherwise, you know, down economy?

BETTS: Yeah, I think it's a great thing for retail. I think all the little gestures that she does when she appears in public . . . like early on when she was wearing a lot of broaches and she talked about it. I think that helps a lot. It gives people the confidence to go out and go shopping. It gives people the confidence to try something new with their look. And both of those things are strongly needed right now.

RYSSDAL: Just in the interest of equal time here. What do you think about how her husband dresses?

BETTS: I think her husband looks great.

RYSSDAL: All right.

BETTS: I don't think he should change a thing.

RYSSDAL: All right. Kates Betts is the editor-in-chief of Time's Style & Design. Kate, thanks a lot.

BETTS: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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