“Fashion shows are not really my thing,” stylist Meredith Koop admits. “They are beautiful and I love to see the clothes move, but they feel cold and it’s like, ‘Oooo I don’t know if I am cool enough to be here.’” Coming from the sartorial mastermind who was Michelle Obama’s personal stylist since 2008 this is both a shock (Koop placed the order for Obama’s jaw-dropping Balenciaga glitter boots after all) and a relief. It is clear that her ability to craft a wardrobe with J.Crew one day and Jason Wu the next stems from a very real place. Koop is the type of woman anyone—Michelle Obama or otherwise—would want in their court.
When asked about the evolution of the former First Lady’s fashion sense in 2008 to the crescendo of thoughtful fashion that unfolded on January 20, Koop answers by referring to values like thoughtfulness, respect, and responsibility rather than silhouettes and color palettes. She’s said in previous interviews that she doesn’t like to give specific style prescriptions. “[With Michelle Obama] there was never really a conversation where we sat down and said, ‘Ok fashion is this tool and we are going to do this,’” she explained. But that doesn’t mean that Koop let any detail go unconsidered. “It was understood that there needed to be a new level of responsibility and liability. People were paying attention to [Michelle’s] every word, every eyebrow, every outfit.”
Koop got to work researching young and upcoming designers—a practice that she continues today by scouring Instagram and fashion websites. “Sometimes my algorithm is really good and sometimes it’s not so good,” she says. “But I’m always looking.” Currently she has her eye on sci-fi-inspired brand Ottolinger, knitwear label Judy Turner, and Swedish designer Jade Cropper, to name just a few. She also developed the practice of going through every detail that could possibly go wrong with Obama’s outfits working with tailor Christy Rilling, for example, to put weights in Obama’s inauguration coat to keep it from flapping in the brisk D.C. winds. “I’ve trained my mind to always think about worst case scenarios, it’s probably a little problematic, but I’m stuck with it now,” she jokes.
Thanks to her and Obama’s efforts, the practice of dressing as a political force, is commonplace. It has inspired people, public-facing and otherwise, to dress with more consideration, to shop with more care. Below are Koop’s recommendations for anyone looking to dress more thoughtfully this year:
1`. Find Just One Brand
“I love comparing food and fashion because we have so much more information about our food than our clothes. It can be really difficult to figure out where our clothing is made or who it is made by. Some things seems to be good, but then you do some research and it turns out it is not so good. If you can find one brand that you really like to support. For example with the Sergio Hudson look, we wanted to support his business because he is amazing. He is a great designer. It is not difficult to be a patron of his.”
2. Start with Jewelry
“The jewelry industry can be a more accessible way to think about who you are personally supporting—and there are lots of great independent designers.”
3. Buy Secondhand for Sustainability
“I haven’t been to Goodwill or Salvation Army in a while because of Covid-19, but I’ve always loved thrifting and hunting for things. It is fun to take things and make them your own and there are a lot more secondhand sites now, which make it easy.”
4. Buy Less
“As a culture we need less stuff. Make the most of what you have and invest in the things you really, really like. ”
5. Do the Best You Can
“I know the thing right now is to be super extreme, but just chill. Ease into it. I think it is unrealistic for most people and most budgets to go 100 percent. I put myself on a challenge once where I said I would only buy sustainable clothing: either secondhand or from a designer I could vet. It was hard and it was expensive—and I don’t even buy that many clothes for myself! Just do the best you can.”
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