A lot is riding on Michelle Obama’s

fashionable coattails.

Women started copying her look when she

wore that black-and-white dress on The View. She dares to go without

pantyhose and has the toned arms to carry off sleeveless dresses, even in the

most formal of settings, such as when her husband addresses a joint session of


Her casual elegance is having a ripple

effect throughout the country, even on TV characters.

“I think professional has changed, when in

the workplace women don’t have to wear blue pinstripe suits anymore to be a

lawyer,” says Tina Nigro, costumer for NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims

Unit. “I’m hoping with Michelle Obama, we can be a little bit more


Among the actors she dresses is Stephanie

March, who plays Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot in the Tuesday


March describes her character’s look as

“quite a bit more conservative and professional than my lifestyle is. I

definitely don’t own a suit. I don’t interview at Morgan Stanley; I guess

nobody does. She is conservative, expensive. I am fighting for a black,

good-looking dress. Dresses are so easy.”

Cabot’s dresses are from designers Calvin

Klein, Anne Klein and Narciso Rodriguez. She also wears shell blouses for under

suit jackets from Banana Republic.

Nigro builds the characters’ closets by

shopping a lot at Saks, Bloomingdales, Barney’s and Century 21.

Even though Nigro is already shopping at Century

21, with its extensive designer shoe department, she buys the character’s

3.5-inch heels at 9 West and Aldo to save money.

As conservative and professional as Cabot’s

look is, she still needs to accessorize. Nigro finds necklaces and earrings in

the Sundance catalog and buys jewelry at Lord & Taylor.

“She wears simple and ladylike pieces,”

Nigro says.

Cabot’s also practical. “If it is cold out,

she wears stockings,” Nigro says. “Otherwise, no. It is still considered

professional. On TV you can’t tell if she is wearing nude stockings.”

“There was a time on TV — I have done Homicide — where it was about reality and not making people look beautiful,”

Nigro says. “Now people are prettier. Television’s changed; it hasn’t the

documentary style it was in the ’80s, and that reflects in the clothes and hair

and makeup.”

Will a stylish first lady help edge along

this trend?

“I hope so,” Nigro says. “I think women still

feel they need to sort of look assertive, but I hope with Michelle Obama — she

wears a lot of dresses and cardigans and is much softer and fashion-forward,

and fashion-forward people are not afraid and will do what feels right on them.

I hope it does change.”

Posted by:Jacqueline Cutler