Monday, September 13, 2010

Political Prowess vs. Sartorial Splendor

Credit: New York Magazine
Over the weekend, New York Magazine's The Cut blog featured this awesome photo of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand cutting a rug at Saks during Fashion's Night Out. How chic does she look in her Nanette Lepore LBD and pumps? If you asked me, I would never guess she's a politician.

But her reason to look good is precisely because she's a politician, and it just underscores just how important it is to dress for the job you want. She says: "There was a press conference on a windy day where I didn’t look my best, and that was the picture my opponents used in negative ads for two years."

In the era of ratings-driven cable television news and 24/7 Internet coverage, looking polished at all times has never been more crucial for a politician - particularly females. Men only need to wear a standard, well-fitting suit, but women face more options and, honestly, far more criticism. Remember Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries? Same jacket, three colors. And Barack Obama faced not even a fraction of sartorial scrutiny now-Secretary of State Clinton did.

I can't say the double standard is necessarily unfair. On the red carpet, men can wear a killer Tom Ford or Burberry tux and be fine; only those that deviate wildly from the norm are scrutinized harshly. Celebrity women, generally speaking, ask to be judged by their sartorial choices.

But another group of women in the national spotlight - female politicians - ask to be judged by their ideas and issues, and, often, the superficial aspects get in the way. But a well-coiffed and styled woman looks more put together. It really is PR 101. First impressions are extremely important. After all, if you can't manage to control yourself and your appearance, how can you be expected to do the same for your constituency? Why settle for merely functional when you can be fabulous? (Thanks, Neiman Marcus, for that gem.) Show your voters you take pride in yourself - more than be bare minimum. Show them you can go above and beyond what is expected into what is exceptional. Secondly, why give anyone - opponents, media, even friends and family - a reason to tear you down - particularly for a reason as cosmetic and frivolous as that?

And finally, one of the best parts of being a woman is the vast range of options with which we have to express ourselves stylishly. Fashion allows us a point of view to which men have limited access: Are you a free spirit or more classic? Are you girly or edgy? Given the crucial importance of the sound byte, we can't discount the significant value of what an image of a politician looking impeccable can do for her political career. Clothing choices often speak volumes when words aren't necessarily an option. Take Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who often wears purple suits - a symbol of royalty, the suffragettes and perhaps bipartisanship (ha).

I admire Senator Gillibrand for being so upfront about her stylish predilections. In a way, it's sort of brilliant political move: Fashion is a huge industry for her state and its constituents, which she noted on Friday, saying "We want to enhance this industry. It generates ten billion dollars in salaries. It's a fundamentally New York industry! We have double the number of designers that Paris has."

But is it necessary in the political world to discuss these things? Not really, as long as you look OK talking about what matters - the economy, national security, etc. As most other female members of Congress show - particularly members like Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine or Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington - if you are knowledgeable and thoughtful on the issues, your fashion choices become tertiary.

Want to read more about politically-minded fashionistas? Check out some of my favorite blogs on the subject:
And we can continue to look to the ever-stylish FLOTUS for fashion inspiration. Michelle Obama dresses for her body and often looks impeccable (let's ignore the heinous sweater she wore in France last year). Visit to check out her latest looks.

PS. Want to steal Senator Gillibrand's look? Pick up a similar Nanette dress here. Want to rock her black pumps? Try these Louboutins or Kate Spade heels.

No comments:

Post a Comment