Contrary to my usual opinionated self, I am agnostic about this latest brouhaha: Michelle Obama's bangs. (In case you've been hibernating during this cold spell, she inaugurated a new "do" at the inaugural.) Though I'm not entirely sold on the look (it looks eerily similar to Jane Fonda's 1971 shag in Klute, no?), I certainly don't think it's awful either.
In fact, I can understand why so many people find it cute. Those perky bangs give Obama a youthful, girlish aura—but therein lies the problem. While it might be fine to look adorable when you are the nation's hostess with the mostess, what happens when other middle-aged women imitate that look at work? Will they look stylish or silly?
"I am a big fan of MO but I really think the bangs don’t work," says a law firm consultant in Chicago. "It’s one thing to try to look young, but I don’t think the 'do' is age-appropriate. . . . She looks like a kid with an adult face." The First Lady, she adds, should look "elegant and chic but not adolescent."
A male partner at an Am Law 200 firm, who seldom weighs in on style issues, is equally alarmed: "Michelle looks ridiculous. It's a disaster. What does she think she's doing with those bangs?"
Most lawyers I contacted, though, like Obama's new look. "She looks great," says a female lawyer in L.A. "Her hair is healthy—no obvious extensions—and sleek and stylish." At least four other female lawyers echo that point. One says that Obama's bangs give her a "softer look," while another adds that it's just "silly" to find fault with her new appearance.
Honestly, I can't get worked up about Obama's bangs on either side of the fashion aisle (I get much more rattled about her "mom-in-chief" designation). But I am curious as to why everyone else is getting so bent out of shape about it.
What some might find upsetting, says fashion stylist David Zyla, is that Obama is keeping more of her face under wraps. "Before, her forehead was revealed. Now, it's covered, and people are responding to the fact that we're not seeing her whole face. She's beautiful, and now she's hiding part of it." People get unsettled by women's hair changes, he adds—"it's like when a man gets a mustache or beard."
The key issue, suggests Zyla, is not whether middle-aged women can wear bangs and be taken seriously, but if they have the éclat to make it work: "If you have Michelle Obama's confidence, and you are attractive, you can definitely do that kind of hair style."
I can't argue with Zyla, though I'm not sure the issue is settled. Obama might be able to pull off the bangs, but what about the rest of us?
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Photo on right: Jane Fonda in Klute.