Mirror, Mirror: Fashion-first daughters

Victory night, Take 2: Malia's and Sasha's outfits popped with chic individuality on election night 2012.
Victory night, Take 2: Malia's and Sasha's outfits popped with chic individuality on election night 2012. (CAROLYN KASTER / AP)

Step aside, Mom - we want to see what the girls are wearing.

Posted: January 17, 2013

We know first lady Michelle Obama will look divine at this weekend's inaugural celebrations, whether she recycles an oldie or opts for a piece of new couture.

But all eyes will be on the teen and tween set to usher in a fresh era of Obama fashion - Malia and Sasha.

Oh, the anticipation.

Four years ago, the nation oohed and awwed at the sight of the young sisters in darling crewcuts by J. Crew coats.

This time we wonder: Will they do cute or edgy or classic? Will they do designer floor-length confections at the ball, like their mother?

And what about baubles?

"We just can't wait," said Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director at US Weekly. "They have grown up before our eyes, and we are seeing now that their style is almost regal, but very modern. It's going to be so much fun to watch."

Until late last year, Malia and Sasha seemed like perfectly coiffed little extensions of their parents. Who could forget election night 2008, the sisters quietly blending into the family's coordinated red-and-black look as the foursome took their victory walk.

But on their second go-round as the center of politics' biggest night, Malia's and Sasha's outfits popped with chic individuality, and we, the fashion-obsessed, quickly turned our attention from Michelle's worn-before Michael Kors sheath to her daughters' sophisticated A-line skirts.

Malia, 14, was model-like in her black top and royal blue pleated skirt accented with a pink studded belt. Sasha, 11, looked confident pairing her sister's hand-me-down mint-green Chris Benz skirt with a gray cardigan and matching blouse.

Forget about blending. They had emerged as trendsetters in their own right.

Never before have there been first daughters with such style cachet - thanks to a mother who has more than won the fashion industry's heart.

So as the daughters of American royalty, it's official: From now on, every style move the Obama girls make - from their choice of lip gloss to their pumps to, yes, their hairstyles - will be instantly Instagrammed, Tweeted, knocked off, and coveted.

Not to mention, before their father's second term ends, Malia will have likely attended at least one prom. That means whatever she wears, prepare to see it again and again on high schoolers across the country.

"We are hungry to see how Sasha and Malia will present themselves optically as young adults," said James Peterson, director of Africana studies at Lehigh University. "Even people who don't follow fashion closely are excited to see what they are wearing. In a world of 'ratchet' and reality TV, these girls are a visual oasis."

Because access to them is limited - last week the White House shut down a paparazzo's attempt to publish pictures of the sisters in their bathing suits while on vacation - we have little to satisfy us.

From glimpses of Malia and Sasha in 2013, it is clear they have embraced their mother's flair for mixing prints and easing through Washington streets in flats. Like Michelle, they are not afraid to wear a favorite outfit more than once.

Score three for the everyday woman.

The girls' choices of labels are ones we can all relate to, ranging from J. Crew to Zara, Anthropologie, and Asos.

That, social experts say, helps young people connect to them much more than other kids dominating the fashion spotlight - think David and Victoria Beckham's 10-year-old son, Romeo, who models for high-end Burberry, or Anna Nicole Smith's 6-year-old daughter, Danielynn Birkhead, who poses for Guess.

And then there is 12-year-old Willow Smith - spiky hair, androgynous fashion choices.

"At a time when we see so many children wearing such precocious choices, like Prada at 12, the Obama girls are remaining girls," said Constance C.R. White, editor in chief of Essence magazine. "They could be any girl in Any-town, USA."

Shortly after the Obamas moved into the White House, Malia was all legs, natural hair twists, and braces. But these days she's statuesque and nearly as tall as her dad. Stylishly speaking, Malia favors solid colors and colorblocking.

We've seen her in a sparkling gray dress with black sleeves, so confident and assured. But she was all schoolgirl watching the White House Christmas tree arrive, playful in a tan sweater with burgundy sleeves and a gray-black pleated mini.

"And there is a camel coat she has," gushed US Weekly's Morrison. "It has the black sleeves. There is one just like it in Zara. She is so regal and tall in it."

Sasha, on the other hand, has sprouted before our eyes, embracing her own brand of sparkle. She likes to accessorize, noted Jennifer Romolini, editor in chief of Yahoo Shine, whose site is geared to women.

Sasha is often ballerina sassy in a tight chignon, but she looks cool in print leggings paired with clashing cardigans or pullover sweaters.

The day after Obama's win, Sasha made the fashion blogs wearing pink Nike Dunk sneakers, a version of Air Force Ones - as she descended from Air Force One.

"Their mom is always going to sell a zillion dresses, but it's the young people that the designers really want," Romolini said. "We can't wait to see what they are going to do. It won't be too long before they start shopping their mom's closet."

While we wait for the Obama girls to make their style footprint, the fashion industry (and parents) seem to be grateful they are bringing class back to the teen market - an element lost ever since the days of low-rise-jean-rocking, midriff-baring Britney Spears.

And because the Obama girls' fashion sense, like their mother's, appeals to fashionistas of all races and ages, girls' fashion may be on the verge of a supersized shift.

"You don't have to show super skin, high heels, and tons of makeup to be cool," Romolini said.

"That's a trend that's been building with Kate Middleton, but the Obama girls just might push it over."

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.

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