Dressing to impress: Durangoans can't match first lady

A stylish first lady Michelle Obama greets the crowd gathered outside Whalen Gynasium at Fort Lewis College. Enlargephoto

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

A stylish first lady Michelle Obama greets the crowd gathered outside Whalen Gynasium at Fort Lewis College.

Local fashionistas had waited with bated breath and mixed emotions for Michelle Obama's historic visit to Durango.

Melissa McConnell, author of the cunning and colorful blog, “Worst Dressed Town in America,” said, “It's amazing because, politics aside, she's such a fashion icon – our generation's Jackie O., or even Kate Middleton. I just hope we don't embarrass ourselves. I mean, this is the first lady. Class it up a little.”

Donna Lynas, owner of Occasions Bridal, said it was “just fabulous” Obama was coming to Durango, calling her “the perfect inspiration for us,” but she said a Cinderella-like transformation for Durangoans was “highly unlikely. They'd have to own something first.”

In an impeccable black top, a monochromatic skirt, and a sharp pair of knee-high boots, Obama lived up to her epithet, “America's most fashionable woman.”

“She's was even more beautiful than I anticipated,” said Diane Wildfang.

By most accounts, Durango also lived up to its epithet – “the least fashionable town in America.”

At Obama's speech, the only people in suits were Secret Service agents, journalists from out of town and campaign workers. The audience eschewed dresses and heels for dreadlocks, tattoos, plaid, cowboy boots, Tevas, biker boots and a beguiling number of tie-dyed shirts.

Many young men didn't even meet Durango's standard definition of “business casual” – clean jeans. Probably 5 percent of the audience wore hats, backward and forward, throughout, including the Pledge of Allegiance. Facial hair abounded, with some sideburns evoking cubism. One woman's plunging neckline would have arrested the attention of hungry babies everywhere.

Meanwhile, students were near uniformly clad in the obligatory wrinkled T-shirt, some with bags under the eyes (still perhaps recovering from homecoming weekend), many accessorized with Obama pins.

In a starched blue shirt, understated gold jewelry, designer sunglasses and perfectly blow-dried blonde hair, Debera Galbrayith, stood out in line.

“I'm always overdressed,” she said.

Her friend Judy Olson, who was wearing small, azure, glass earrings, said her granddaughter had sent her a Facebook message that morning. “Michelle's always dressed up! So you have to dress nice!” it commanded.

Asked whether most Durangoans had made similar efforts with their ensembles, two women burst into peels of laughter.

“This is Durango,” “We're proud that we just don't care!” said Miriah Ortiz and her friend, Danielle Freeman.

Ironically, one of the best-dressed attendees was Andrea Buchla, a Romney supporter, who came with four other Republicans from Farmington to waive placards that read things like, “NOBAMA.” Her manicure – an intricate red, white and blue flag pattern (“stick-ons,” she said) – complemented her ensemble: a white Romney-Ryan shirt and bright blue skinny jeans with a cascade of auburn hair completing the Americana palette.

As far as Durango's sloppy dressing, Secret Service Resident Agent in Charge, Michael Mantyla, said reassuringly, “I can tell you from the Secret Service perspective – we've been here for a week. I have no issue at all with the people we've seen, and I'm sure the first lady will treat this like any other town in America.”

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