NEW YORK (AP) — Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are at the opposite ends of the style spectrum. McCain is very proper in brightly colored dresses with matching jackets; Obama is more dramatic in bell sleeves with an occasional flash of cleavage.
“There's no way they could be sisters and exchange clothes,” says image consultant Ginger Burr. They do, however, have a shared affinity for bead necklaces, particularly pearls – and the chunkier the better.
Obama, just named to Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed List alongside the likes of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Sarah Jessica Parker, wore a single strand of large, white pearls around her neck with a purple dress and funky black belt when her husband claimed the Democratic nomination.
McCain paired earth-tone South Sea pearls with a brown jacket and, on another day, wore a funky baroque necklace with uneven-shaped pearls to complement a navy suit.
“A chunky necklace needs a confident woman to carry it off,” says Rae Ann Herman, Glamour magazine's accessories director.
“Beads are statement pieces.”
She's not surprised, though, that McCain and Obama have taken to wearing them, because they both seem to be more style-conscious than the public is used to seeing in its first ladies – save Jackie Kennedy, another pearl wearer.
“To me, pearls are Step 1 on what to wear if you want to become a first lady,” says stylist Mary Alice Stephenson. “Both Michelle and Cindy are channeling Jackie O: They wear streamlined clothing with pearls.”
Herman thinks the potential first ladies are taking cues from the runway, noting that chunky jewelry has made inroads with the fashion crowd over the past year.
“We've seen so much statement jewelry – bigger necklaces, bigger bracelets, bigger earrings – and it always trickles down to all price points,” she says.
They are also showing that they're savvy: “You use accessories to make your wardrobe more exciting. If you're not buying new clothes, then you're investing in new jewelry, even if it's costume jewelry.”
By choosing pearls and beads instead of diamonds, Stephenson adds, Obama and McCain are avoiding questions about cost.
She thinks they may have learned from Hollywood stars the importance of incorporating a “Wow!” moment into each day's outfit – and that it's best to wear it from the waist up. The added bonus of the necklace is that it draws onlookers' eyes toward the face.
“You can look severe and bare if you're not wearing a necklace, which makes you look feminine and elegant,” Stephenson says.
Burr says that McCain sometimes successfully uses necklaces to lighten and brighten her face – counteracting some criticism that she looks too uptight.
However, Burr didn't like a round, multicolored pearl necklace that McCain paired with a green dress with a boat-shaped neckline that served as the starting point for open pleats down the bodice.
“A necklace should fit into the neckline of the dress. The green with the mixed pearls looked good but the neckline is too high and there's too much detail around it,” she says.
That said, pearls do look good on McCain, she says.
“Some women default to pearls when they don't know what else to do. I don't think that's happening with her. She's using the necklace to complete an outfit and give insight into her personality.”
Burr recalls seeing Obama in black beads – a sign that she likes clothes with a little more drama and flair. She also likes to see Obama in white pearl earrings, but not necessarily necklaces.
“I'm not sure if pearls are the best choice because I don't think of her as being traditional,” she says.
Above: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer. Cindy McCain
Below: AP Photo/Morry Gash. Michelle Obama