Unlike the president, whose entire life, down to his medical history, is available for public scrutiny, or the first children, whose lives are almost entirely private, the first lady lives in a constant tug-of-war between the private and the public. Her private family vacation might have called for sport shorts. Her very public descent from Air Force One would have been less jarring -- what with two stern servicemen standing ramrod-straight and the bulletproof presidential "beast" waiting -- if her attire had been more polished. Was a suit required? A fancy dress? Or any kind of dress, for that matter? Absolutely not. This is 2009, after all, not 1950. But there's a difference between shorts that could be worn jogging and those that one might wear to a backyard barbecue.
Or at least that's as it should be. The reality is that a good portion of the culture has become loudly vocal about how clothes don't matter and how it's snobbish or shallow to suggest that they do. But clothes are part of our broader aesthetic obligation to each other. That commitment pushes homeowners to mow their lawns and not be a blight to the neighborhood. It makes them think twice before painting their houses in psychedelic stripes. The desire to be aesthetically respectful means guests give consideration to what they wear to a friend's wedding or mourners take care in how they dress for a loved one's funeral.