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Honoring Culture and Custom

Image by Charles Dharapak / AP Photos

Image by Jason Reed / Reuters

The president and first lady toured Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday morning. As is custom, Mrs. O wore a head scarf and stocking feet to tour the grounds, paired with a Stephen Burrows matte jersey pant suit. (The first lady wore the same sunrise yellow pantsuit by the Harlem-based designer in July 2010, here.) Mrs. O's head scarf, in animal print, with teal fringe and gold bead trim, puts a modern, fashion-forward spin on tradition -- demonstrating, once again, that no sartorial detail has been left untended!

Update: Mrs. O's scarf is the classic Prova “Sandinista” silk scarf fringed with three layers of fringe, a teal fabric fringe, a short gunmetal glass-beaded fringe and a pale lemon yellow pom-pom fringe. As many will recall, the first lady wore a Prova scarf on another trip overseas, during her trip to France in June 2009, here.

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Reader Comments (106)

@Posh Tater...well said. I would never wear a headscarf, burqa...anything that says I am a second-class citizen to a man. And I said the same thing with Laura Bush wore one in Saudi.

@Keisha I could not disagree more with your last statement. You say that covering arms, legs, face and even their shape protects women from abuse from some men, or negative thoughts. I can't believe in the year 2010 anyone actually thinks that way. Let alone an entire religion!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

OK so Indonesia is not as 'conservative' so what about the information minister blaming MO for shaking his hand. This thing keeps getting worser and worser

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterdasie

funny that some people don't like this color. I think it's fabulous...almost a chartreuse, and it looks great on her skin. I would like to see the jacket more fitted though. But at the same time it has a sort of loungy Indonesia feel? But stop the presses, that scarf is AMAZING!! So incredibly beautiful and fun with amazing details. Once again, she surprises. She has represented us so beautiful, as she always does, on the world stage!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterADiez

Looking through whitehouse.gov, I came upon a picture of FLOTUS greeting the children of US Embassy staff at a hotel. She wore a dress I hadn't seen before. Any info on this dress?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarcelisa

I think this the same concept as covering her head when she went to see pope. Except, there she knew how to dress given Christian dress codes and here she needed to be educated.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered Commenteranar

Definitely great to honor the culture and custom!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 1:52 PM | Registered CommenterPaulina Fisher

I just need to keep reminding myself that this trip is not about fashion, but agree that a belt would have made this outfit a little more flattering.

I wish they'd hurry home, the Republican pundants seem to be getting off track and celebrating the return of George W. Bush

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterriver rush

I love, love, love the scarf- color, beads and fringe. But I think the suit is awful - color, fit and style just off. A rare mis-step for Michelle - guess she's entitled to one now and then.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterdeb

Explaining that Awful picture, with the bunched up back: After seeing Picture no 12 on the White House website (the green print dress she wore to greet the children), I think I understand what happenned. Not that I like the look any more, but it might explain the bad photo.
OK, here we go, I think she is wearing that green dress in the WHite House pic under the green jacket and she just pushed it up to act as a t-shirt, thus the bunched up effect. If you look closely at the first pic Mrs. T posted, you can see a little bit of the same knotted print material peeking from the top of her jacket. Maybe she had to do fast transitions from one place to another and did not have time for quick changes and decided to "layer", but in this case it was not an entirely good idea. Just a theory.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterNora

Beautiful scarf. I love pix showing the back.

But.... Am I all alone in really liking this look? I even like it without a belt (as I liked it when worn with belt earlier). A day-pajama is such a step up from the stiff ol' pantsuit.

And, of course, it really is appropriate here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterdesertwind

Just wondering....Mrs. O may have wearing a bullet-proof vest. That would account for the wrinkles.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterChar

I wish I could afford such lovely clothing. I took the Obama's advise and instead of looking for a well paying job in the private sector I went to work for a non-profit organization. These kinds of jobs don't allow one to be able to afford such beautiful clothing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commentersally fenoglio


Ikram is NOT a stylist, her sole purpose is to purchase the First Ladies clothes!!!!!! Michelle does not need a stylist, and obviously she does not want one. Michelle dresses for herself, like the average woman. Michelle never had a stylist when she lived in Chicago, so I don't understand why MANY of you think she needs to pay someone to tell her how to dress because she lives in D.C.!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 5:40 PM | Registered CommenterM.M.

Also, many of you are taking handshake gate too serious, it's a nonstory!!!!!!!! Move on

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 5:42 PM | Registered CommenterM.M.

Thanks to BeeGee, for showing us the back of this outfit. Without a doubt, I have never seen our FLOTUS look worse. Judging by her expression in these pictures, she feels the same way. Truly a dreadful fashion statement.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterThumper

Oh. Goodness. I am almost speechless. Quite possibly the worse thing I've ever seen her wear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterfoo

I respect her so much for wanting to be appropriate. But I wish there was a Muslim staffer or someone who could help her not be so-self-conscious. A long rectangular silk scarf with a fun design would be more comfortable, b/c then you just drape it over your hair and it covers the head covering function without being tight on your neck and covering your whole face. And her outfit yesterday (the red dress and black pants) or something like that would have been appropriate -- she doesn't need to worry about tightness/looseness, anything like that. Most Muslim girls, especially in Indonesia, like to be fashionable while they cover, even when they go into mosques. It's totally normal. That would probably have helped her feel more mobile and less buttoned up -- confinement is actually antithetical to the scarfs purpose. I wish she would've had some one to tell her she can totally be more comfortable when entering a mosque.

All in all, this trip was wonderful for Mrs. O. She grabbed headlines and showed her warmth and strength at once. Amazing representative for the USA!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJenna

I didn't like this outfit the first time she wore it, even though the belt helped. There's something about the shade of lime green that's just doesn't sit right with me. Now it looks formless and shapeless and too big. Plus she's wearing the headscarf in a way that makes it look too tight. She needs a re-do on this one and someone needs to teach her how to tie a headscarf so it elegantly reveals her face.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMT

I tried not to comment on Mrs. O's wardrobe selections for this trip, but I am so exasperated! with the fashion wash and wear choices (conservative, yes, but b o r i n g ). This is a bit emabarrasing. I never did think that green pantsuit was flattering the first time she wore it in WH, and to put it on world stage!?! Anyway, I for one am glad she is coming home. I miss her chic, snappy outfits, short hemlines, belts, and elegant make up like her first European trip to meet the queen and prime minister.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterDee

keisha a woman does not need to cover up and wear the veil to get respect form men and not be touched up. That is the MAN's job to behave with respect towards a woman regardless of what she is wearing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:55 PM | Registered CommenterPosh Tater

Hideous outfit...sorry. However, she looked great in the previous entry. That's the thing about the First Lady...her look is kind of all over the place. Not liking it lately. Unflattering hemlines and ill-fitting clothes do not make for a chic First Lady. You probably won't post this be/c I'm not gushing over her.
Oh well...that's a blogger's prerogative.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterkate

I understand Mrs. O being sensitive towards local customs and culture. She is an ambassador for the United States of America. She and her designers should take into consideration the culture and customs of the country she is visiting.
I'm sorry....but, this outfit looks sloppy and ill planned. It looks as if she grabbed something from the back of her closet and said this will work. She normally looks so put together for the occasion. This looks last minute and she should have staff with her at the hotel for help. Someone from her staff should have known you do not wear shoes in a Mosque and the pants hemmed accordingly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:54 PM | Registered Commenterann#1

Doesn't this give us a window into islamic values? The President and the guide stand comfortably in their ordinary dress -- other photos show them laughing and talking together, gesturing and exchanging ideas. Mrs. Obama is off to one side, her head swaddled in cloth lest a man see her hair, her body stuffed into shapeless pajamas, having to hold up her pants legs to walk. A man is apologizing on Twitter for having touched her hand. These are islamic values: ignore women, hide women under shapeless cloth, pretend women do not exist. It is gender apartheid and subordination of women. I feel for Mrs. O because she is so clearly uncomfortable when you look at a range of photos from this event. She is being victimized here to please the feelings of women haters -- I wish that she had stayed away from the mosque and spared herself this indignity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnonna

I've been thinking about this outfit. I agree with an earlier poster who stated that she maybe put the suit on over the dress she wore to the embassy.
Maybe it was last minute decision to accompany the president to the mosque and she was ill prepared? She does not look like her normal comfortable self. Maybe she meant to spend the day at the embassy for which she was prepared?
Anyway FLOTUS is human. And fashion mistakes are inconsequential if you look at the bigger picture of what the President is hoping to accomplish.
Still I am in agreement with posters who hope this suit stays at the back of the closet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Registered CommenterTammy Gerardi

@ heidi and @posh tater

morning guys,,
hmm,,ok, i won't push you to take it all in..because it's easier to understand if you live in such a muslim country. But the fact here (Jakarta) is that people put a little more value on women who decide to cover their head..i'm not saying that the one who doesn't will look bad..(i show my hair everyday n still believe that i look good :p ). i have so many men friends, and like other men in this universe they like talking about women, including the sexual part..but it is so rare that they talk about women with the headsccarf sexually..because i think they put a bit more respect on them..
i don't know if being the topic of a sexual conversation is a pride or not in the west, but i prefer not to become one..that's why i said it can prevent some of negative thoughts..though i agree that is the MAN's job to behave with respect towards a woman, but some men can't do that..And i think that we have to respect the choice of a woman who decide to follow all the guidance from what becomes her faith.


hahahhaa..you shouldn't take that so serious..about the minister doing the handshake with Mrs.O..
when i read the minister's tweet a while after the handshake, i was laughing you know.. :)
because i think why would he post that in twitter..
ok, it is true that being touch by someone who doesn't relate to us is prohibited in Islam..but here in Indonesia that is a CHOICE..i've done a lot of handshakes in my whole life here, weather it is with someone related to me or not.

FYI, in Papua, the east part of Indonesia..we still have tribes where the members are barely naked because of their culture..and we never try to kill the heritage by forcing them wearing clothes.
maybe you can check this pic below:


well,i don't have a bad intention by sharing you a glance of my country..it is a beautiful country where people live in a great tolerance of so many differences..come visit us guys, we are very welcome for foreigners.. :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterkeisha

@ Interesting and plausible theory because if you look at pic #15 on the White House web site, nothing is sticking out under her jacket.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterdasie

@Nora, you are sharp! You are absolutely right. I was trying to figure out what was peeking out at the neck and as soon as I looked at picture #12 the mystery was solved. She had a dress under her suit, the poor lady. The visit to the mosque was going to be canceled because of the early departure and then they decided to do it, rush, rush leading to fashion disaster. So that is what we see sticking out at the back. Great detective work.

On another note, I have traveled to Jakarta frequently and the women are very fashionable. Some dress very conservatively and others do not wear the scarf, same in Egypt. I think that it is important to remember that even though they were in Indonesia, a very different culture to the Arab countries, it was better to be completely covered so as not to offend any Muslim anywhere, just the world we live in.

One more thing, note how very Mrs. O she looks - arms exposed - while greeting US embassy folk.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 11:16 PM | Registered Commenterdenisegirl

This has been a most successful trip and exactly as it was meant to be!!!

The First Lady was very effective in keeping this trip in perspective and especially depriving the "Marie Antoinette" chorus a singular opportunity to distract from the focus of this most important trip for the President.

If the most the same dubious crowd of eternally negative attackers can come up with is that she didn't dress "better", needed a "stylist' (nevermind that they would be the first of course to scream about misuse of "taxpayer monies", quote unemployment rates and/or their all time let them eat cake favorite spewed crap!) and if putting up a very fleeting capture showing the rear of a very human but incredibly amazing woman - (I wonder how long it took "BeeGee" & "Thumper" to find that particular shot within seconds of each other...)

If that's all the attack this magnificent First Lady got on this trip from the naysayer chorus...then:



Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 11:57 PM | Registered CommenterEleroy


If I were wearing what the First Lady is wearing I would have been uncomfortable and quiet too. Let's not blame a whole religion on basis of discomfort over a clearly bad outfit choice. As a woman raised in a Muslim nation I can reassure you that she could have worn that tunic with pants and even a loosly wrapped head scarf and she would have been fine. It's her stylist (or whoever in charge) fault that she is so uncomfortable not the religion. She looks very comfortable and engaged in other photos in the same country.

Again, she had to cover up for pope same as she had to cover up here except she didn't know how to do it here - style-wise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered Commenteranar

Ms. O does not need a stylist "just because she lives in DC" now. No, she would need one to avoid catastrophes like this and because she is now evolving on a WORLD stage and has so many more important things to juggle that she should not have to be bothered with little details like how her outfit fits and photographs. Honestly, sometimes I would get a personal assistant/stylist if I could afford it. A stylist does not mean that you do not have taste or does not know how to dress, it just makes it easier for you to be your usual stylish self on hectic days and trips such as this. And as far as cost, I am sure Mrs. O can afford a reasonably priced style advisor if only just for trips like this. A good stylist does not define your style; a stylist refines it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 12:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterNora

Huff Post pics confirm she did indeed have that dress on underneath this monstrosity. I wish someone could have helped her find a creative way to cover up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 5:38 AM | Unregistered Commentercanyongal

All the calls for a "stylist" are stupid funny. It all costs MONEY! The clothes she wears come from the family pay check. We expect her to look PERFECT 24/7 but it costs money to be flawless 24/7 and if she had a stylist and they where on the payroll imagine the stink that would cause. She looks great most of the time and the minute she doesn't it is a national emergency. I don't like the suit but so what. She represented the US with grace and respect.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterThat other Mimi


FLOTUS with the German first lady.

Sweater I think is Talbots


Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterTammy Gerardi

Lovely, just lovely. Will this Balenciaga trained designer who is known for his quirky and edgy designs become Mrs.O's new favorite and a darling not just among American women, but women all over the world? His name here.--->http://bit.ly/db214C

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commentervonmiwi culvera

It's so fantastic that Michelle's fashion is causing us to debate how religious customs impact women's lives and dress. And non-religious customs: I couldn't enter Lenin's tomb in Red Square when I was wearing shorts.

At the end of the day, Michelle is obviously an American Woman who can dress as she wishes, thank God (pun intended). We are all so blessed to have our freedom, which women before us had to sacrifice so much for. And being respectful of other cultures is how you win their hearts and minds. You can't influence another culture if you stay home and skip seeing a beautiful mosque. Perhaps seeing the first lady in the mosque will give a woman somewhere the courage to push rules a bit and force some change.

I love that Mrs. O re-wears clothes, it's an important statement. But also, that pant suit really only works with a belt and heels. Maybe now it can be put away.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterLael

It breaks my heart to see this beautiful, delightful, brilliant, warm daughter, wife and mother par excellence reduced to this. Yeah, yeah, I've read all about respect, appropriateness ad nauseum. I just ain't right.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterconnie

and who will be paying for the stylist, she personally or the taxpayer. I sure don't want to, so don't give her any ideas even if I voted for her husband and plan to again. Very time she does makes a faux pas she needs a stylist, I would love for some of you to post pictures of yourselves online. And some of us non elite, non fashionistas or whatever you call yourselves would do exactly what she did and tuck that little pretty frock under that ugly lime green pant suit to please whomever we had to please for a few minutes. Listen there are more or us than there are of you so she and her husband are there because of us. Keep that in mind.

Mrs. T you sound like a pleasant lady and I like this website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterdev

@ Tammy

Good catch! I'm not in love with that pattern, though.

I wonder if there's been a story about whether Mrs. O is affecting the sales of Talbots clothing like she has affected the sales/public perception of J.Crew. I will admit that before I saw Mrs. O wearing those clothes, I thought of J.Crew/Talbots more as a source of boring preppywear. I've definitely added a few J. Crew pieces to my wardrobe in the past couple of years, though. Talbots is still a little bit boring to me, but I like them for basics. My mother lives near a Talbots outlet and the prices are redonk. 90 percent off, sometimes!

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterChristina


I'm in NYC and Talbots sheath dresses really work for career wear. And I agree, when Talbots has a sale it is off the hook!

I have to limit my JCrew to the flats and sweaters, my body does not wear JCrew well.

When I saw the sweater originally on Talbots website, I immediately thought of FLOTUS.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterTammy Gerardi

Mrs. O surprised service men and women in Germany by showing up to help serve their meal. I so love this woman's generous spirit and desire to be of service.

I think she's wearing a floral print cashmere sweater from Talbots.


Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:15 AM | Registered Commentermeta


I hear you. My butt, hips and thighs laugh at J.Crew pants/skirts. They're like "honey, what. EVER. Try again."

But I do have a few tops and sweaters from the store that I like. This is totally me following after Michelle, but I've grown to like cardigans with sequins and cute beading and stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:20 AM | Registered CommenterChristina

There is a beautiful photo of Mrs. O in profile at this link. Scroll to the bottom photo. Gorgeous.


Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:24 AM | Registered Commentermeta

I did not like this pantsuit the first time I saw it and I don't like it now. BUT, it serves its purpose of covering her up and not showing her shape. Isn't that part of what fashion does--serves a specific purpose, whether we like it or not? But I DO love the scarf.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterPinda

Hey, this is a neat dress! I don't recall seeing this before:


Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 12:31 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

I know she was being respectful of her host nation, but I have to say this is my least favorite look on her. I did not like it in July and it is worse here without the belt.

But the scarve is lovely. Very beautfiul.

I hope she does away with this suit. If she can't make this suit look good, no one can!

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:00 PM | Registered CommenterGeorgina

Christina, that is a fabulous dress! Do you know what gallery you were looking in? I will feature, with credit to you!!, just want to make sure I cite the proper photographer, etc. Thanks!

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:33 PM | Registered CommenterMrs. T

Hey Christina,

That's the dress that everyone was referencing as being under her suit.
In the top pic above you can see a little of it peeking out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:42 PM | Registered CommenterTammy Gerardi

The suit looks like a comfortable pajamas and the scarf is lovely. I think a good job was done by the FL.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterlisa

I have no problem with this suit. Why? I love pantsuits and the color. I am partial to earth tones, so I do admire folks who are daring with colors. This is something that I like about Michelle Obama.

This is not a "Hillary," " Boxer" or Polosi pantsuit. It is a pantsuit that gives flair to the pant. I can assure you that this style is comfortable to wear. Perhaps, the pant legs should be hemmed a bit; however, if Michelle is comfortable, who am I to complain?

I do appreciate that Mrs. Obama has tried to give respect to the cultures of the areas she visited. In my opinion, she has done a great job.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterbusbus

@Tammy: Oh, is that what folks were talking about? I sort of zoned out on the "This is why Michelle looks so awful" discussion.

@Mrs. T: Hi! I saw it on the Obamadiary website, but from the URL, it looks like they picked it up from the White House, so it might be in the public domain for you.

Here's the Obama Diary Permalink


That shot is also picture 12 in this gallery:


Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 2:13 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

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