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Michelle Obama's New Coif—A "Do" or a "Don't"?

Vivia Chen

January 23, 2013

Lawrence%20Jackson%20White%20House%20Photo%20%28Obama%29%3b%20Warner%20Bros-1.%20Pictures%20%28Fonda%29Contrary 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?


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

 Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

Photo on right: Jane Fonda in Klute. 


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I actually like her haircut, but it could be better.

Naught naughty, Vivia. To Jennifer's point above, don't start talking about Hillary's glasses, which are much more of a style choice than Michelle's hair.

Mrs. Obama's hair looks great & people should try being nice about the change. I'm an over 50 corporate lawyer and I have always had bangs and wouldn't consider changing it just because of my age.

Beth M


At least FLOTUS has the pluck to change her style. When was the last time Ms. Chen tried a new look?

I find it disappointing that this is a topic of your blog, which is billed as "The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering." How do Michelle Obama's bangs relate to useful career advise for lawyers?

What's coming tomorrow? A discussion of Hillary Clinton's appearance at the hearings rather than the substance of the content? Oh, wait, I think you've already done a blog post about her longer hair style.

We women are our own worst enemy, and continuing these types of things encourages others to continue viewing us as frivolous and "less than." You should be embarassed that you bothered that many attorneys with a question about Michelle Obama's bangs. It's unprofessional and demeaning.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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