Reading (And Reporting) “Bird Entrails”

“It is possible,” writes the New York Times’ Guy Trebay in yesterday’s Sunday Styles, “at a time when campaign images are scrutinized by media sibyls as ardently as the entrails of birds were read by the ancients, to read too much into Michelle Obama’s grooming and wardrobe.”

To be sure, as they say. But let’s go ahead and “read into” anyway! Reports Trebay:

If the gumball pearls were a retro wink at traditional decorum, they still read as anything but wifely jewels. “Those are not little ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ pearls,” said [Mikki Taylor, an editor at Essence]. “Those are large pearls. Those are pearls you have to deal with.” It could be, of course, that voters won’t warm up to a pearls-you-have-to-deal-with personality.

Could be. More Trebay:

But it was particularly the color Michelle Obama chose Tuesday night that seemed symbolically rich, even if its message may have been so subtle as to be subliminal.

“I don’t know if that’s something they consciously thought about,” said [someone “who has written extensively about first ladies”], referring to the fact that purple is, as every schoolchild knows, created by mixing the primary colors red and blue.

I was sure that “nothing says royalty like the color purple” was where he was going with that one.

And of Michelle’s “Jackie flip,” Trebay reports that “hair matters, as anyone knows who has tracked the unending styling travails of a woman once known as ‘Hairband Hillary.’”

Careful coif. Power pearls. Vibrant sheath dress. “Obviously all part of how [Michelle Obama’s] image strategy has evolved,” says Vogue’s AndrĂ© Leon Talley. The evolution of her image strategy. How’s that working out, as far as strategies go?

What Ms. Taylor [of Essence] read in Mrs. Obama’s appearance on Tuesday, she said, was a message that she is primed to become first lady…

So, mission accomplished (image strategy-wise)? Not so fast. “Primed to become first lady,” perhaps:

…although not necessarily first hostess. “Every woman I talked to was saying how she has this confidence that is empowered,” Ms. Taylor said. “The purple dress, the legs that I have to believe were bare and not wearing the prerequisite suntan stockings, all say, ‘I’m here to do business.’”

And it could be, of course, that voters won’t warm up to a bare-legged, here-to-do-business woman.

Meanwhile, referring to Cindy McCain on Friday, Fox News’ Meghan Kelly wondered: “Is it weird to have a first lady in leather?”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.