The Politicization of American Political Ladies’ Wardrobe

Women in the 113th Congress image courtesy of salon.com

In 1920 women earned the right to vote, and while we are still fighting for equal rights for women in 2018, American women have come quite far politically. Since 1952 women have served in the Senate, Tammy Baldwin became the first LGBT woman elected to the U.S. Senate, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferrero became the first woman to run for vice president of the United States, and Hillary Clinton became the first woman to clinch the Democratic nomination for president.Although we are living in the age of Trumpism, women are still making strides across the political sphere, but by virtue of sexism and sexist ideals, women in politics are critiqued for something that men rarely are: their fashion choices.

Images courtesy of patriotretort.com

On September 13, New York held their primary election day, and in a political upset, newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley for the House of Representatives seat for New York’s 14th Congressional District. Since then, her name has appeared everywhere from The New York Times to MSNBC. Interview even took notice of the rising political star, and published an interview between her and actress Kerry Washington. When the story was published, Ocasio-Cortez was featured wearing a Gabriela Hearst pantsuit paired with Manolo Blahnik pumps, the cost of the outfit totaling $3,500.

Images courtesy of hellomagazine.com

Given her policy positions and public persona of being an everywoman voice for the working class, and a Democratic Socialist, her appearing in a $3,500 outfit was met with much ire, surprisingly from the right (who are quite mum about things like Melania Trump’s $50,000 Dolce and Gabbana coats.) She was accused of being a hypocrite. Ocasio-Cortez fired back by explaining that the garments in question were loaned to her for the shoot. (Gabriella Hearst herself is a Uruguayan designer who uses compostable plastics for packaging and held a runway show inspired by civil rights activist and feminist Angela Davis.) If there was a fashion designer semi-palatable to Ocasio-Cortez’s leftist political views, Hearst isn’t too far off as a woman, a Latina, and a progressive.Yes, there is irony in Ocasio-Cortez talking about the plight of the working class, all while wearing a $3500 outfit. That said; women are subject to this scrutiny in the way men aren’t, never have been, and probably never will be. Donald Trump, the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is known for wearing $5000 Brioni suits.

Between his almost two years on the campaign trail and his first two years in the White House, there’s yet to be a single word written about the luxurious price tag of Trump’s suiting choices. While 40 of our 45 presidents have been dressed by the more accessibly priced Brooks Brothers, their price tags aren’t exactly consumer-affordable. A good two-button suit off the rack will cost at least $900.

Images courtesy of kamisolmagazine.com

The controversy over the fashion choices of female political figures dates back to former First Lady Michelle Obama. Obama was considered one of the most fashionable first ladies since Jackie Kennedy, and she made her support for the fashion industry known by wearing top American designers including Jason Wu (who designed her inauguration gown), Monique Lhuillier, Byron Lars, Charles Harbison, and Prabal Gurung. One of her most talked about fashion choices though was a $6,800 J. Mendel cardigan she wore that sparked the contempt of those who said she seemed out of touch with the average working class citizen.

Images courtesy of hellomagazine.com

For her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton really worked to step up her image and wardrobe choices. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was one of her major bundle donors, helped dress Clinton, with Ralph Lauren often providing Clinton with custom pieces. However, one Emporio Armani coat in particular got Clinton slammed in the press. Clinton wore a Giorgio Armani coat, which was originally $12,495—but on sale for $7,497 at the time—to her New York primary victory speech where she discussed job creation and income inequality. Although wearing such and expensive coat while giving a speech about income inequality can be seen as questionable, again, there’s a lack of criticism around male politicians’ expensive suiting choices.Clinton, who was once criticized for her lack of style—her notorious, lackluster pantsuits come to mind—now became the target for wagging political tongues when she took a high fashion approach to her campaign wardrobe. Note that former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was also heavily criticized for her makeover wardrobe, which clocked in at a total of $125,000, and included a Neiman Marcus shopping spree.

Ilhar Omar image courtesy of heragenda.com

As of the recent mid-term elections, there will be two Muslim women in Congress. Somali American Ilhan Omar will be the first member of the U.S. House of Representatives to wear a hijab on the House floor, and this in itself could even stand to be controversial for a variety of reasons. (There is still a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US in certain sectors.)

Sharice Davids and De Haaland images courtesy of grasslandtimes.com

In a night of other historic firsts, two Native American women were elected to Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland. These two women are in a position to potentially make a strong political statement with their fashion choices, if they choose to wear clothes by local Native American artisans from their own respective tribes.While appearances are important in any public profession, from actors to politicians, women continue to be held to a much higher standard than men. At the end of the day, fashion journalism needs to be left to fashion journalists, and the political pundits and those outside of the fashion industry should take a closer look at these women’s policy positions rather than their Prada pumps.

—Kristopher Fraser

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