Meet Mrs-O.org, Mary Tomer
The new First Lady inspires dedicated fan web site
-Jennifer Goodkind, A Fashionable Life
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. As I started to do my homework for my fashion coverage, searching for information on Michelle Obama’s style, I stumbled upon Mrs-O.org. Mary Tomer (right), founder and primary writer for Mrs-O.org, set out to create a web site that would reflect her enthusiasm and excitement for Michelle Obama’s ability to influence style and to set an example for women around the world.
I asked Mary to share her thoughts on Mrs-O.org’s first few months as we approach the one-hundred-day milestone since Barack and Michelle moved into the White House.
You say that you were inspired to create Mrs-O.org by Michelle Obama’s wardrobe choices during the Democratic National Convention. Was there a single outfit worn by Mrs. O that led you to this epiphany?
Mary Tomer: On the second night of the DNC, Michelle Obama was seated in the audience with her mother and brother. Only as the camera panned to her for reactions to the speeches could I get a glimpse of her dress–but I was mesmerized. She was wearing a lime brocade cocktail dress with an empire waist, ruffle at the bust and short sleeves. Only later would I learn that it was designed by Peter Soronen.
It felt like something of a revelation–to see this remarkably accomplished, intelligent, strong woman wearing a particularly feminine, romantic dress. One didn’t compromise the other, rather, they were complementary. Those two notions–strong and feminine– were harmoniously combined in Michelle Obama’s style. It felt thoroughly 21st century to me. And that was the moment that sparked the thought for the blog.
Did you imagine that the fashion frenzy would spark a global fascination with Mrs. O’s style?
MT: Part of the rationale for starting Mrs-O.org was the assumption that other women were as enthusiastic and curious about Michelle Obama’s style as I was–but that like me, they lacked a central, online forum dedicated to Mrs. O’s style.
I didn’t grow up in the Kennedy era, and I have always looked back on that moment in history with longing. Though the comparisons between Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama have been overplayed in the media, I did genuinely start to sense that perhaps the way I was feeling about Michelle Obama was similar to how women of an older generation had once felt about Jackie Kennedy.
I anticipated that there would be a lot of interest in Mrs. O’s style, but have been surprised by the intensity, global reach and sheer volume.
Recently you appeared on several shows (Today, Access Hollywood) speaking on Mrs. O’s style. Clearly, the site has thrust you into the spotlight as an “expert”. How do you feel about your new “expert” status and being an on air personality?
MT: The First Lady has embraced a very democratic approach to fashion, and so I think it’s quite fitting that the voice of a devoted Mrs. O style fan would emerge as somewhat of an “expert”.
What do you think of the inevitably drawn parallels between Jackie and Michelle?
MT: I’ve never followed a single story or subject this closely in the media before. I’ve been amazed to read and listen as certain stories seem to take on lives of their own, get built up and then often misinterpreted. In part, I think that has happened here.
I think the comparisons between Jackie and Michelle started in a place of real truth. The excitement we feel now is what I imagine Americans felt in 1961. During the time in between, I don’t believe we’ve seen this kind of widespread interest in the First Lady or her style. But at some point, the comparisons began to get quite literal. Michelle Obama is undeniably her own woman, with her own unique sense of style … as was Jackie Kennedy.
What is your favorite Mrs. O fashion choice? Least favorite?
MT: I love Peter Soronen’s dresses. For the 2009 Governors’ Ball, the First Lady wore a deep purple sequined “Twilight Gown” by Peter Soronen, with a multi-strand pearl and crystal necklace by Tom Binns. It was utter 21st-century glamour.
I also love that Mrs. O wears J.Crew–because I wear J.Crew and so do a lot of women. I’m not sure people realize that even before the Tonight show appearance, she was wearing a lot of J. Crew on the campaign trail. I remember when pictures first surfaced of Mrs.O wearing a gray floral skirt in early October–and in an instant, I recognized the skirt from the J.Crew catalog.
My least favorite look … I hesitate here because I’m quite conscious that Michelle Obama didn’t ask or wish to be a fashion icon. That she didn’t ask makes this all the more exciting and meaningful. It also means that like most women, she has some better style days than others.
How would you describe Michelle Obama’s style?
MT: Modern, feminine, strong
Have your readers felt that Mrs. O has made any fashion “missteps”?
The bolder choices–the Narciso Rodriguez dress on Election Night, the Junya Watanabe cardigan in London–tend to be more polarizing. I think polarizing is the right word, because while some might see a misstep, others see modern and fashion forward.
Who is the Mrs-O.org reader?
MT: There’s a fascinating mix! Women and men. Young and old. Democrats and Republicans. Studied fashion historians and budding style enthusiasts. We’ve had traffic from 192 countries.
Has the tenor of the comments from your readers remained consistent with general public opinion?
MT: Most people coming to Mrs-O.org are looking for an outlet to share their enthusiasm for the First Lady’s style, or a forum to converse with like-minded individuals. That said, there are, of course, ensembles that please the crowd more than others. And when the general public is polarized, we tend to see that on the site too.
Would you consider adding a Desiree Rogers page or a Sasha and Malia page to the site?
MT: For now (and in the foreseeable future), we’re focused on First Lady. Like Mrs. Obama, Desiree Rogers is a smart, accomplished and incredibly chic woman. After reading about the great Letitia Baldrige, I’m also fascinated by the demanding role of White House Social Secretary. We will certainly look for opportunities to celebrate Ms. R and her great style.
We won’t feature Sasha and Malia unless it’s a story that involves the entire Obama family. I’m conscious that they’re very, very young, and it doesn’t seem quite fair or right to shine a spotlight on them.
Who/what would you like to see the First Lady wear?
MT: There’s a sparkly cat-print dress in the Fall/Winter 2009 Zero + Maria Cornejo collection that I’m in love with. The print is made from a photo Maria Cornejo took of her own cat using her iPhone. If Michelle Obama were to wear that dress, my year would be made. And the First Lady has worn Zero + Maria Cornejo in the past, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibilities.
Do you think there is a danger in emphasizing Mrs. O’s fashion influence and thereby eclipsing her legacy of social change and reform?
MT: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot about lately. Michelle Obama is a woman of great intelligence, strong character and a gracious spirit. I don’t think anything, not even the tremendous interest in her style, could possibly overshadow that.
But ultimately, I do think the interest in Michelle Obama’s style is a good thing–it’s a source of inspiration for women, and who could fault that?
The risk perhaps is that we don’t often enough acknowledge the substance and symbolism present in her clothes themselves. She’s redefining the codes for how American women will dress. She’s championing new and lesser known American designers respected for their old-world craftsmanship and distinct design esthetics. She’s mixing pieces from all parts of the fashion spectrum–high, middle and low–which may spark a reappraisal of value. Michelle Obama’s style is democratizing fashion in every sense, and as a symbol of that movement, her impact may be quite profound.
Jennifer Goodkind is the co-host, with Jayne Chase, of A Fashionable Life. They are fashion reporters for ABC News NOW, where they cover the red carpet, Fashion Week and the business of fashion.