NEW YORK, N.Y. - Before we start rambling on obsessively about Michelle Obama's bangs, let's be clear: The president started it.
It was he, after all, who called the new hairdo, unveiled just a few days before the historic occasion of his second inauguration, "the most significant event of this weekend."
And he hasn't stopped there. On Tuesday night, he introduced his wife at the Staff Inaugural Ball: "And the First Lady of the United States, bangs and all..."
So given the president's evident interest in the subject, perhaps the rest of us shouldn't feel so bad about analyzing ad nauseum the first lady's new look, an activity that has certainly taken over social media for days (and, perhaps, ended discussion of an earlier obsession, Michelle Obama's arms.) Heck, the bangs even have their own (unauthorized) Twitter account, FirstLady'sBangs, which has taken to issuing dispatches like: "Just got a text from Hillary Clinton's side-part" or "BREAKING NEWS: Barack just named me director of Hairline Security."
And how about the headline in New York's Daily News, the day after Obama's private swearing-in? "In With A Bang."
Quips and clever headlines aside, everyone seems to have an opinion about the new style — not only how it looks, but what it means. And so, just because it's fun, we analyze some of them here:
THE YOUTH FACTOR: It's no secret, say fashion experts, that on the right person, bangs can make you look younger. It's also no secret that Mrs. Obama turned 49 the very day she unveiled the cut last week, in a photo tweeted from her new Twitter account, FLOTUS.
"None of this is accidental," says Linda Wells, Allure magazine's editor-in-chief. "She tried this on her 49th birthday. She wants to spice it up a bit. And it's definitely a more youthful style than what she had before. It just has a flirty, young quality to it."
THE FASHION PLATE: Clearly Mrs. Obama, well known and admired for her fashion sense, is aware that bangs are in these days. Sure, they've been around forever, and your 5-year-old may have them, but recently bangs have become a full-fledged fashion trend, with actress Zooey Deschanel one of the standard-bearers. (Fun fact: Deschanel, 33, and Mrs. Obama happen to share the same birthday — Jan. 17.)
"Bangs have always been there, but they are clearly having a moment right now," says celebrity hairstylist Harry Josh, who was in Washington to style singer Kelly Clarkson's hair for the inauguration (Clarkson sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee.") "Mrs. Obama is really being modern and fashion-forward. We haven't had a fashion-forward first lady like this since Jackie Kennedy."
New York hairstylist Robert Stuart agrees. "Bangs have been really, really big for about a year," he says. He thinks Mrs. Obama has picked the perfect cut for her looks. "It's much softer and younger, and it makes her look more approachable," Stuart says. "It also works well for her sense of fashion. And it brings out her eyes."
THE NAYSAYERS: Just in case one thinks everyone loves the hairdo — and the reaction does seem extremely positive — there are naysayers. Count among them Joan Rivers, comedienne and fashion commentator, who tweeted on Inauguration Day: "Today starts President Obama's next four years in the White House. Let's hope the same isn't true about the first lady's new hairdo." Explanation? She didn't provide one, but in her defence, she only had 140 characters.
SHE'S EXPRESSING HER INNER SELF: Here we get a little more philosophical. Some have speculated that, since Mrs. Obama is starting a second term and won't have to endure any more campaigns, she's finally free to express herself exactly as she wants — and feels. "Haircuts do express how people are feeling," says Wells. "You get that sense of her feeling liberated — more comfortable, and less worried about what everyone else is thinking. She's showing her own sense of style and own sense of energy."
Stuart, of the Robert Stuart Salon, has a similar thought. "I think now she's maybe feeling less threatened, and can express herself more. Really she just seems more comfortable."
IT'S SOMETHING TO EVERYONE: If you'd wandered around the National Mall on Inauguration Day, and spoke to women especially, you'd have found a lot of Michelle Obama fans. No surprise there. But many of these women were also fond of the bangs, and for various reasons.
Sheila Garrison, an educator from Maryland, called the hairstyle "different," but all the attention paid to it brought home to her and her friend, fellow teacher Patricia Cooper, that Mrs. Obama "represents women in a beautiful way," in Cooper's words. "You look at her and you are proud to be a woman. She commands respect." Garrison, 58, also appreciated how Mrs. Obama, a fellow tall woman, "carries herself really well."
Mattece Mason, 34, of Tulsa, Okla., adores the cut — when asked about, it she and her family members — well, the females — screamed, "Oh my God, we love it!" But the enthusiasm of her daughters was meaningful to Mason for a reason other than fashion. "My daughter Aubrianna, who's 14, said to me today: 'I want bangs now,'" Mason said. "That made me feel great because my girls have such a role model. A first lady they can emulate." (Mason also mentioned she thought Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looked great in those eyeglasses she's been sporting lately.)
And Roslyn Snow, of Newport Beach, Calif., had another reason for loving the new Obama look. "I think she looks like Jane Fonda back in the old days," said Snow, 76. "Remember?"
A SIGN OF SOMETHING BIGGER?: Many have wondered whether Mrs. Obama has plans to forge a new role in the second term, taking on different issues. Wells, the fashion editor, gets that feeling, though she makes clear it's all speculation. "You sense it with the strong statement she is making with her appearance," Wells says. "Before, her look was sort of retrograde: the hair, the A-line dresses. The emphasis was on 'lady.' Now, it seems, the emphasis is on 'first lady.'"
A POLITICAL STATEMENT?: Josh, Clarkson's stylist, likes to see a broader message in the haircut choice. "Think about President Obama's statement in his speech about gay people as equals. It was so forward-looking. Mrs. Obama was saying something similar, I'd like to think. She was putting America into the position of a forward-thinking country."
Or not. "Of course," adds Josh, "she could just have been bored with her hair the old way."