Friday, October 24, 2008

The Democracy of Fashion

This week, the media cycle picked up the Republican National Committee’s decision to spend $150,000 on Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s wardrobe. Clothes were bought for the governor at high-end stores such as Barney’s New York and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. The how much and the where spent are very important distinctions for the Republican Party, which has spent a large part of its campaign trying to paint the Obamas and their supporters as elitists.

Yes, Gov. Palin should have a new wardrobe and should put forward her best aesthetic face. All candidates must be professional and on-point in their style choices. And until this election, with the introduction of Michelle Obama, many of these style choices by both Democrats and Republicans have been pricy, from John Edwards’ $400 haircuts to Hillary Clinton’s Oscar de la Renta gowns.

When Michelle Obama appeared on the television show, The View, she wore a dress from retailer White House/Black Market for $148. This dress subsequently sold out in stores all over the country. Mrs. Obama always appears well-dressed, stylish and classy – without the hefty price tag. If one is a dedicated fashionista, she will read all the monthly fashion magazines, log onto all the fashion sites, and make her wish list every season. What anyone can find, however, is the vast majority of women cannot afford Carolina Herrera dresses or Donna Karan suits. Most fashion web sites, and increasingly more magazines, offer more affordable choices.

Mrs. Obama offers the realistic and—dare I say it—more democratic fashion choices by consistently appearing in outfits from places such as The Gap, where many women in America shop. For Gov. Palin to campaign in $2,000 suits when she claims her middle-class background proudly is hypocrisy. Still, I do not think she was the one who made the choice to refurbish her wardrobe at the elite department stores. It was the Republican Party’s choice, perhaps even with Cindy McCain’s hand in it. Cindy McCain comes from a very wealthy background and one glance shows a woman who does not hesitate to spend thousands on her clothes. However, she grew up in an upper-class family where such expenditures would be the norm.

Michelle Obama grew up in a working-class family in the South Side of Chicago. Of course she would head to more affordable outlet stores to buy her clothes. And she manages her purchases with a fashionista’s eagle eye. She is a tall, beautiful woman and knows how to dress her body and what colors complement her skin tone. She proves to all women in this country, no matter what background, we can look amazing with a small price tag attached. She stays true to her roots and executes a style cunning that is admired by women all over the United States.

When Gov. Palin submitted to the Republican Party’s “elitist” idea of fashion she betrayed her fan base and her own middle-class roots. That is the real news that should be gleaned from the $150,000 lavished upon John McCain’s running mate. That Gov. Palin did not have an actual say in how it was done is obvious. It is simply another nail in the coffin for the McCain campaign, which has consistently devalued Gov. Palin by keeping her from the media and constantly managed by handlers. This is no defense of Gov. Palin, however, because the woman has overreached herself by taking the vice presidential spot when she is undeniably unqualified and when she is let loose, she sends her crowds into rousing choruses of hate.

Still, this fact remains: The country has been creeping into what could be a very deep, long recession for the past two years and the Republican Party still lives in a world of denial. Not even knowing how to clothe one of its candidates in anything less than luxury designers is a glaringly obvious example of how out of touch the party is with the rest of the country. It all comes down to what I’ve noticed since the Democratic primary: most candidates see the United States from the top down and the Obamas see the country from the bottom up. Michelle Obama’s democratic and sensible fashion purchases are simply one example of how in touch with average Americans they really are.

Recommended Reading: The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour by Joan E. Dejean