The art of power dressing with Michelle Obama’s stylist Meredith Koop

  • Over the years, Michelle Obama has become a style icon.
  • Her stylist Meredith Koop helped Obama become the well-known fashion icon she is today.
  • The pros at Koop and Black have pondered the lasting effects of Obama’s style and the power dressing statements.
  • You can find more stories in Insider’s business section.

Daniella Carter said that if she has learned anything from Michelle Obama’s style, it is what an unapologetic black successful woman looks like “even if there are people in the world who spit hatred.”

Carter is a black trans activist and founder of the “Guest Book” of the same name, which highlights the creators of color.

She grew up in foster care but said when she saw Obama “fit and booted” she always reminded herself that while she may not have a mother who looked like her, she would learn to support herself with it she and her future daughter could both grow up not to apologize to Black, successful women.

She’s not the only one who feels that way.

Meredith Co-op

Meredith Co-op


Meredith Co-op

After Obama’s 2021 inaugural look left the internet dazed, Insider reached out to her stylist Meredith Koop as well as ten black pros to talk about how Obama’s style influenced her. Co-op helped develop the image of what a black woman looks like when she throws a state dinner together, visits the Queen of England, takes a book tour and most recently the inauguration of President Biden.

“She’s amazing in what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know that and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. Clothing is the extra element that is transcendent in non-verbal communication.”

What a powerful black woman looks like

“When I saw Ms. Obama show up for President Biden’s inauguration, I was impressed – her hair was laid and her dress was killed – even in a mask,” said DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of black media streaming service KweliTV. said insider.

Spencer said Obama came to demonstrate what a “powerful black woman looks like”.

Sandrine Charles, a consultant and co-founder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the housewarming look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She’s always been royal,” said Charles of Mrs. Obama.

Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair of English proficiency at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked to her accomplishments and that “many blacks value that sense of responsibility.”

“The term ‘Forever First Lady’ people give her is more than a word of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is proof of how valuable your representation has been to the black community.”

Michelle Obama

Pritchard said authenticity is likely to be remembered for Ms. Obama.


YURI GRIPAS / AFP via Getty Images

Co-op designed Obama with tactical precision

There was no blueprint for what a black first lady should look like. There had never been one.

The styling of the former first lady was and is a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overwhelm her voice, Koop said.

Even if Obama is away from the White House in a long time, Koop still awaits what people will say – how a dress fits too loosely or how a color scheme doesn’t fit. Koop assumes that if Obama were white, she probably wouldn’t have to use such styling precision.

“It’s just obvious,” said Koop. “The way in which the press, the media and various people in particular interpreted their appearance as something negative – that happened from the beginning.”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama wears a Tracy Reese dress


Rick Rowell / Contributor

Fashion designer Tracy Reese, who has worked with co-op on multiple occasions and donned Obama, told Insider that she noticed that there was always a very clear vision of what Obama would look like.

“In the public consciousness, the first lady always wears either a suit or something very conservative,” said Reese. “Ms. Obama has really set a new standard for her clothing.”

She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear nice clothes, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism and color. “We’d probably never seen that before in the White House,” she said.

Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The Shavone Charles model, known as SHAVONE. and director of communications and creative partnerships for image sharing app VSCO, which Koop and Obama calls the “most dynamic duo” of the past decade.

“For me and many other black women, we look at Ms. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said, pointing to the white Tom Ford dress that Ms. Obama wore as one of her favorites at the 2011 state banquet at Buckingham Palace.

Michelle Obama

LR) Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in London, England on May 24, 2011. (


Anwar Hussein / Contributor / Getty Images

That initiation look radiated power

Almost everyone Insider spoke to had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the pink Atelier Versace dress that Obama wore to her last state dinner as first lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of Vera Wang’s black mermaid dress she wore to the 2015 state dinner in China.

Then of course there’s this housewarming look created by Sergio Hudson, a black designer from New York. Haitian-American photographer Geraldine Jeannot described the look as a moment of style and grace.

Black people are always “put in a box” and judged heavily on their appearance, Jeannot said. “That day, Ms. Obama was in power when she walked into the room.”

Inauguration by Michelle Obama

Former US President Barack Obama and former US First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021 for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President.

JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP via Getty Images


Co-op collapsed for Insider’s Wineberry Plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insiders’ request for comment.

Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look. She asked for some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less shiny coat lining. A distracted camera with a matte lining flashes, making the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back so Obama didn’t have to pull it over his head. The boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were from tailor Christy Rilling.

Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it is like to fill historically white spaces.

The second African American woman to become a full-time trader on the New York Stock Exchange, she said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she wants to emulate.

“There have been many women throughout history who had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a black woman does it fearlessly, and gracious is power in itself.”

High profile women who use clothes to start conversations

Simmons and SHAVONE. Obama’s style helped usher in the era of powerful women who wore clothes to be seen and heard. Simmons agreed with this sentiment, pointing to Meghan Markle as an example of a high profile woman who uses clothes to start conversations.

Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians have adopted this as well. Women rely more than ever on authenticity.

Even during the White House years, Koop worked closely with designers to figure out what a modern first lady looks like. Some already had ideas, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“She was a white woman with one background and Michelle is a black woman with a different background,” Koop said. “I thought the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle herself.”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama wears Balenciaga from head to toe.


He is supervised / employee

That meant Jason Wu dresses, lots of J. Crew, and after the White House custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics there was a difficult blueprint for what women in particular should look like.

“Mrs. Obama definitely inspires the way I dress,” Illinois congresswoman Lauren Underwood told Insider. At 34, she is currently the youngest black woman to serve in Congress.

“Your influence is greatest when I prepare for the rare formal events I attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be humble and still stylish, and Ms. Obama always made it.”

Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Ko-op styled Obama to celebrate the “feminine aesthetic” and she never tried to hide her size or athleticism, instead choosing clothes that emphasized these qualities.

“What Meredith and Michelle did together is show the world what millions of black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the black silhouette is not limited to the limits of Eurocentric misunderstandings”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama. Spencer, who has worn her hair naturally for over a decade, said it makes her feel like a product when Ms. Obama wears her naturally curly hair in such public spaces.


MOHD RASFAN / AFP via Getty Images)

Carter and Pritchard expressed similar feelings. Carter added that the only black bodies considered powerful were those by entertainers and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character and send a message to our communities and culture that black was chic That is sexy, smart and beautiful Women are not just Hollywood roles. “

According to Underwood, Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest itself in a generation of powerful women who are free to express themselves with the colors, patterns, textures, designers and hairstyles they want.

“It doesn’t matter if the clothes came off the clearance shelf or if it was a unique design,” she continued. “It shows us how we can fully take ourselves on the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble after another.”

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