It was the T-shirt seen round the world.
In January, a candid photograph of Malia Obama, the older daughter of the president and first lady, dressed in a baggy white T-shirt imprinted with the distinctive logo of the Brooklyn rap collective Pro Era, showed up on the Internet – most notably on the Instagram account of Pro Era (where it has picked up more than 6,200 “likes”).
The response to that image, a far cry from the demurely dressed teenager seen in the officially sanctioned photos issued from the White House (always in the company of one of her parents and usually her younger sister, Sasha), was immediate.
It was quickly picked up by Refinery29, Gawker, Complex and New York magazine, while Fox News and other news media outlets reported that the White House was investigating how that photo became public. (It’s been widely reported that the first lady has barred Sasha from social media and has restricted Malia to Facebook.)
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Not only was the T-shirt a striking departure from the ladylike J. Crew and Kate Spade dresses that 17-year-old Malia typically wears to official events, but it also signaled that, after more than eight years in the public eye, in which she had grown from a somewhat shy preadolescent into a confident teenager, she is increasingly seen as a style icon for young women in her age group, one who occasionally takes the kind of fashion risks long associated with her mother.
“The Pro Era T-shirt is interesting because we rarely see her in an edgy way,” said Christene Barberich, Refinery29’s editor-in-chief. “It makes me wonder if she has yet to have her rebellious fashion phase. That’s generally when fashion influencer status starts.”
Even if she has not yet reached the “fashion influencer” stage cited by Barberich, who said she will be interested in seeing how Malia’s style evolves after her father leaves the White House, her clothing choices are now dissected closely on fashion sites like InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar and a popular Tumblr blog called “Malia Obama Is Gorgeous.”
Her profile has only been enhanced by her internship on the HBO series “Girls.” That followed both Malia and Sasha (along with “Mad Men” actress Kiernan Shipka, singer Lorde and reality TV stars Kylie and Kendall Jenner) being named to the list of the “25 Most Influential Teens” by Time magazine last October.
Her moment now as New York’s most recent “it” girl “is all about timing,” said Kerry Pieri, digital director of fashion and features at Harper’s Bazaar, adding that Malia’s height (about 6 feet) and good looks don’t hurt.
And despite White House restrictions on which photos can be taken and published of the two Obama girls, clothing brands have certainly benefited from Malia’s sartorial choices. When a look is spotted, brands immediately send out news releases. (A spokeswoman for the first lady declined to comment on whether Malia uses a stylist.)
In June, when disembarking from the plane on an official trip to London, Malia stepped out in an Alice and Olivia blue with sunflower print shift dress ($440) paired with Mary Janes. Stacey Bendet, founder of Alice and Olivia, noted that the dress nearly sold out after Malia’s appearance but that “Flotus is still the queen” when it comes to rousing sales.