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(The Root) — If you were to ask just about anyone in Washington to name the most important event taking place in America this week, he or she would likely say the State of the Union — the president's address, the GOP's official response and all of the pundit chatter about it before and after.

But that person would be only partially correct.

For many in politics and government, the State of the Union serves as the perfect grand follow-up to the Super Bowl. The captains of America's two major teams will battle it out on airwaves instead of AstroTurf, using words to try to score points against the opponent, all while trying to maintain the illusion of embodying great sportsmanship. Also, like the Super Bowl, there are the endless hours of armchair quarterbacking we can all look forward to this week. 


But just as there are those Americans who care absolutely nothing about football but care everything about the Super Bowl halftime show, there are plenty who probably can't identify a single member of Congress and won't be watching the State of the Union address or following the fallout from it closely, if at all. Instead they will be preoccupied with America's other great show this week: New York Fashion Week.

There are those in politics who dismiss these types of people. Anyone who cares about fashion more than politics must be shallow, not substantive and not the kind of person who sways elections — except that these people have already swayed an election: the 2012 presidential election.

When it is all said and done and history looks back on what secured President Barack Obama a second term, the credit will belong to two people: Mitt Romney, who left much to be desired as a candidate, and Michelle Obama.

The president's so-called likability played a key role in helping him survive a campaign in which he couldn't entirely run on job performance (with a slow economic recovery making it tough). Michelle Obama put much of the "likable" in his "likability" the last four years, with favorability ratings routinely outshining his.


There have already been endless love letters written about Michelle Obama in the last year, including by some of us on this site, so there is no need for another. But not quite as much has been written about why — and when — Americans fell in love with her after being so reticent during her husband's first presidential campaign.

It can be argued that it began when she spent much of her husband's first term doing a hipper, cooler, younger version of the Laura Bush first lady model: lots of smiling, lots of gardening, lots of looking harmless and nonthreatening. But she also did something perhaps more important: She began dressing the part.


When the nation first met Michelle Obama, she looked like who she was: a high-powered, big-city lawyer turned executive. There were pantsuits — lots of them. And voters weren't buying it, or her. Then there was "proud-of-my-country-gate," when her remarks at the height of her husband's primary victories were used in an attempt to paint her as unpatriotic.

Then suddenly there were floral skirts, brooches, sweaters — often in soft, pastel, family-friendly colors. And there were the arms. The beautifully toned arms showed off in equally beautiful, and ladylike, sleeveless dresses. Seemingly overnight, gone was the intimidating, scary (to perhaps those harboring subtle racial biases), black power wife. In her place emerged an accessible, pretty, youthful, friendly mom — or "mom in chief" — you'd like to have coffee with. You might not agree with her husband's politics, but if she was willing to vouch for him, that was now good enough.


The criticism that former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers elicited for her high-fashion photo shoots and Fashion Week appearances proved the political dangers of losing control of the political narrative one is seeking to craft through clothing. But Mrs. Obama's successful transformation affirms the benefits.

Confirming once and for all that the first lady's fashion sense had become the president's saving grace was her reception at this summer's Democratic National Convention. While her husband's speech received a B-minus in most corners, hers received an A-plus. Her speech certainly deserved a solid A, but the attention generated by her stunning Tracy Reese dress gave her the plus and then some.


Need any further confirmation of the political power of fashion? Just consider the fact that the grand doyenne of New York Fashion Week, Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, was rumored to be in the running for a plum ambassadorship. The reason? Because of the role she played in serving as the Obamas' bridge to the fashion world in the last election and the one before. (Rumor has it the first lady just shot her next Vogue cover.)

So while many in the Beltway may dismiss fashion's biggest show this week, those who have real political instincts know that the next president, first lady or first gentleman will have his or her team scouring the runways for the ensemble that may transform him or her from candidate to commander in chief — or spouse in chief.


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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