The first lady phenomenon

The whole country is discussing nothing else but the election now, therefore the fashion column should also be on the standing topic. But presidents usually dress in a conservative and boring way, so there is almost nothing to discuss for fashion bloggers. But the first ladies are another matter.

The very concept of the first lady was invented in the United States, as well as many other formulas and rituals of modern democracy. In the era of globalization, not only the housewives of the White House are called ‘the first ladies’, but also the wives of other countries’ presidents or prime ministers. However, there is no official position of the first lady even in the US itself. Although the role of the first lady presupposes a number of duties and tasks, this work is not paid and is not regulated by law. And it is quite understandable.

No one is running for the first lady out of their own desire. And no one knows, when marrying an ordinary man, that one day, perhaps decades later, he will become a president. Women marry an actual president rarely. The only exception was Carla Bruni.

She knew exactly what she was doing. Nicolas Sarkozy was already the president of France when their affair began. And they celebrated their wedding in the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French presidents. And although Carla Bruni-Sarkozy strongly emphasized that she was not a political figure and was absolutely apolitical in general, at least in matters of style she was able to cope with the role of the first lady perfectly.

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And this is not surprising, given her previous brilliant modelling career, and moreover – a very rich and well-known Italian family that she is from. Of course, Carla received education, manners and taste that are worthy of any state reception and international summit since childhood. Carla’s personal style has changed during her time as a housewife of the Elysee Palace: she had to give up high heels given the fact that without them she is a bit taller than her husband. But even in ballet flats or tiny heels, she has always looked elegant and dignified.

France is perhaps the last country in the world that would have a chance to get the undignified first lady. Even an ordinary French woman usually has some idea of the laws of style, not to mention the women of the French political elite.

And although there are many critics of the current French first madame Brigitte Macron who denounce her skirts that are too short and arms that are too exposed, as for me, it is impossible to deny her sense of style. Her outfit is usually perfectly balanced and appropriate. Thus, she deliberately demonstrates her slender legs, being a living proof that the principle of ‘hide the knees after 40 and forever’ is hopelessly outdated. She does allow herself the styles that we are not used to seeing women of her age.

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We’ll need to get used to it. Not only her clothes but also her love story and marriage are a certain challenge to the prejudices of society. But the world is changing, becoming more democratic and free – in particular, in the matters of family and marriage. This is one of the great humanitarian achievements, and the humanitarian sphere should be under the care of the first lady. Therefore, we can assume that Brigitte Macron performs the duties of the ambassador of humanitarian ideas perfectly. She herself is a living embodiment of the idea of everyone’s right to personal happiness, no matter what observers and critics think about it.

Another first lady suffering from crushing criticism is Melania Trump. People are people, it is extremely difficult for them to separate the sheep from the goats and not to transfer their own attitude to the president onto the assessment of style and manners of his wife. Therefore, a lot of those who are not happy with the president Trump are automatically unsatisfied with his wife.

Melania is often reproached for looking more like a doll than a living woman, and everything she wears is too tight. It looks as if she tries to accentuate her charms in any outfit and in any way.

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There is no denying, she is guilty of that. But technically, all her official outfits fit the protocol, and that’s the main thing. And the fact that she almost always wears high heels and is almost always a little overdressed… that can be considered as her personal style.

Someone who was never blamed for the unnecessary splendor of the attire is the previous first lady, Michelle Obama. Although she let herself wear elegant and colourful evening dresses from the world’s leading designers and fashionable images every day. Apparently, the main reason for that was the personality of Michelle. She could not be ‘eaten’ by bright dresses, she was more interesting and meaningful than any dress.

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After all, hiring good stylists and choosing a good outfit – it’s not even half the battle. The woman behind the outfit, her education, how she behaves and talks also matter. Whether she speaks foreign languages, is able to maintain a conversation on cultural or social issues. We should not forget that the duties of the first lady include communication with the heads of foreign states and joint cultural events with their wives when the state leaders conduct official negotiations one-on-one. In order to receive dignitaries and hold receptions, the first lady must first be a lady – in the broadest sense of the word, and only then – the first. You can’t be the first in what you’re not.

And in this sense, Ukraine was not very lucky, of course. Historically, Ukraine had bad luck with the ladies. It is unlikely that you have ever seen the very first lady of the independent Ukraine Antonina Kravchuk. The second first lady Liudmyla Kuchma was a more public person, she appeared in public quite a lot and participated in charitable initiatives. Her personal style underwent a certain evolution during her time with the status of the first lady. She had a great success of moving from the boring two-piece garments of the Dnipropetrovsk house of the models to the boring two-piece garments of famous French fashion brands.

But Kateryna Yushchenko became the first true Ukrainian first lady. One can argue about whether her style was impeccable and modern, but she was the first to promote Ukrainian designers and this is one of the traditional tasks of the first lady. She was the first to wear the traditional Ukrainian outfit, to popularize the idea of embroidery as the national symbol. She was the one who started the trend of wearing vyshyvanka and its variations to solemn and official events.

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I could criticize Liudmyla Yanukovych’s style, but it is even somewhat uncomfortable for me to do it. Her ridiculous outfits were not mocked only by the lazy ones, and it is difficult to understand what there was more to these jokes: indignation with her bad taste or hatred towards her husband. And it is quite understandable. However, we can humanely feel sorry for her – in a sense, she is also a victim of the Yanukovych’s regime. So let’s leave her alone.

And let’s discuss the style of Maryna Poroshenko. As the first lady, she fulfilled all the stylish obligations that, although unofficially, are imposed on the wives of the heads of state. She supported the domestic producer, wearing their outfits, including the democratic mass-market Ukrainian brands. She promoted the idea of the national costume and set an example of how to wear it modernly and elegantly. She was the first wife of the president in the history of Ukraine that appeared on the glossy magazine cover. And most importantly – she represented Ukraine abroad, at the meetings with foreign heads of state in a dignified manner. She looked on equal terms beside the above-mentioned Briggite Macron and Melania Trump, we never had a reason to be ashamed of her.

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And this is extremely important. The first lady does not take part in official negotiations, she allegedly does not influence political events, but she has a huge effect on the image of the country as it is perceived abroad. During the meetings at the highest level, various media discuss how the first ladies looked like, what they wore and how they smiled. To adequately represent the country, the woman needs to be able to dress with a style, to smile on time, and to feel confident and relaxed.

We still don’t know who will the next first lady be. We can only hope that we will not be ashamed of our first lady for the next five years.

Maya Tulchynska

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