One of the things I appreciate about my children’s new school, as a parent, is their dress code. No sagging pants, no shorts or skirts above mid-thigh, no flip-flops, no spaghetti straps. In other words, a modicum of decorum must be exercised on a daily basis. There is no uniform. In the past, other schools we have attended have had similar dress codes but minimal enforcement. Not here. The school even sent home a note in advance of tonight’s first middle school dance reminding both parents and children alike of the policy. Believe me when I say that you do not want to wrangle with the school director over such an issue.
So you can imagine my surprise this morning when I saw, via Spanish news, America’s First Lady greeting foreign dignitaries at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in a dress with spaghetti straps. “Wait a minute“, I thought to myself, “my ten year old daughter can’t wear them to school but the First Lady can sport them at a business meeting?” Did we scrap the Protocol Department in order to stave off our ever-burgeoning deficit? What gives? Am I the only one who considers this a terrible breach of protocol? Or was Mrs. Obama just espousing a new right to bare arms?
My research is as follows:
Yes, we still have a Department of Protocol, which is attached to the State Department. It just doesn’t function very well apparently. I was willing to give the Obamas a bye earlier in the year when they visited with Queen Elizabeth and presented her with an iPod, even willing to overlook the hug. I might have been tempted to squeeze Her Highness myself, even though I know the Queen is resolutely untouchy-feely. Michelle’s outfit was a little on the casual side but she looked great. (My choice of gift for HRH? A Corgi puppy. Everyone knows Liz loves Corgis. Think of the photo opportunities!)
The Chief of Protocol is given the title of Ambassador. Our current Chief is Capricia Marshall. Ms. Marshall used to be a former social secretary to Hillary Clinton. Like her other fellow appointee, Tim Geithner, she failed to pay federal income tax several years running. Ms. Marshall claimed that she popped the returns in the mail for 2005 and 2006 but they never got there. I don’t know about you, but we use “return-receipt requested”s for our tax returns. Shouldn’t the Chief of Protocol know how to follow rules? I am pretty sure the job comes with a manual and cheat sheet (which is where the word comes from). This explains a lot. But not everything.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet’s blog, each G20 foreign head of state’s wife receives a White House goody bag. The Chief of Protocol is responsible for giving and receiving gifts to and from the White House. The G20 2009 goody bag included a porcelain tea set, honey from the newly instituted White House Kitchen Garden (those bees have been more productive than Congress since January), and a specially crafted honey pot. (Where can I get one?! Seriously!) Just a guess, but I think Queen Elizabeth would have preferred a little bone china tea set since she drinks tea several times a day.
Now, let’s think this through. Capricia, it seems, was responsible for the iPod gaffe. But is she responsible for the spaghetti straps? She seems to have made no major faux pas when consorting with Hillary Clinton during her White House tenure. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton dressed conservatively and the only fashion foot-fault was wearing a head band during her first campaign which cannot be attributed to the Capricia. So the answer must lie with the First Lady herself. Or, was Ms. Marshall too timid to suggest that spaghetti straps might not be appropriate?
You might be asking yourself, why such a fuss, Expat????? Well, to me, a G20 meeting is a big international deal. It’s one of the world’s largest business meetings. Could I wear spaghetti straps to dinner with the head of Banco Santander? Only if I am sleeping with him. And what happened to cultural sensitivity? Three of the twenty countries have Muslim heads of state. Last time I checked, Muslims weren’t fans of the bared anything, let alone shoulders. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Maybe I am over-reacting? So then I asked myself, “What was Carla Bruni wearing?” She’s always a good fashion barometer when not posing naked. Carla was wearing a LBD with cap sleeves. She looked both stunning and elegant, befitting her position as French First Lady.
Mrs. Obama is also both stunning and elegant. She was blessed with a beautiful body and there could be a natural inclination to enhance or showcase her fine features. Am I jealous? Of course! Is this why it bugs me? No. Am I a prude or do I have a political axe to grind? This is not my motive.
It bothers me because this is the footage the Spanish press selected of the G20: Mrs. Obama pressing the flesh under-dressed. It’s embarrassing to our nation! This is one issue that should be covered up. Maybe a nice G20 wife brought our First Lady a pashmina that Capricia can catalog?
Word of the day: vestido (dress). Go to Lynn Sweet’s blog for the tea set story and a photo of Michelle and Carla (blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/).