The question on Sunday wasn’t whether Hillary Clinton would finally announce her 2016 Presidential bid — that has seemed a forgone conclusion, the worst-kept secret in politics. The question was what tone she would set for the next 19 months of campaigning. No matter the candidate, every detail in a campaign is carefully and strategically framed for our consumption. The devil is in them. From the specific language of talking points, to the color of one’s tie — or, Sunday, red blouse and blue blazer — these are deliberate choices made by the campaign. As a woman whose company is built on the ethos of dressing for one’s self and using fashion as an empowering medium for expression, I tend to notice things like tie pattern or the positioning of a blazer’s lapel (in Hillary’s case, tailored to pop). I marvel at such cues.
So I can sit here and wax poetic on the sort of garb I believe a Presidential candidate should wear as he or she stumps along over the next two years. (Secretary Clinton’s closet would be a medley of suits crafted by Carolina Herrera and the late Oscar de la Renta and, just to please her audience with the sartorial equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance, a smattering of denim.) But who cares? Frankly, I do — but not because she’s a woman.
It seems inevitable, if unfair, that when a woman is vying for a prominent position in office, her outfit choices will be analyzed to a degree considerably higher than those of her male counterpart by simple existence of gender stereotypes. Name It. Change it. has found that any mention of a female candidate’s appearance — positive or negative — hurts her chances of being elected into office.
But this conversation is not about Clinton and the manifold shades of suit she has worn; it’s about the impact of fashion on society outside of its own industry. (For her part, Clinton joked about developing a television show called “Project Pantsuit” while presenting a lifetime achievement award to Oscar de la Renta at the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America ceremony in 2012.)
Fashion is used as a tool to convey a point about who we are or potentially want to be. Whether or not a civilian curates his or her own aesthetic is up that person, but it is an integral part of one’s public image. It can be used to reveal various aspects of yourself at various times, or even create something new all together. Maybe it’s feeling like a little “metallic blueberry on creamsicle” for a campaign event, rolling up shirt sleeves to suggest easy confidence, or an Air Force One “mulletting” a la Ronald Reagan, a presidential man repeller who effectively took the reputation of a hair style and turned it into a mode of dress.
Rosie Assoulin, a fashion designer who has dressed Oprah — a figure as prominently recognized as Clinton — recently asked me where the humanity is in fashion. “People use clothes as a tool, but often to lie to the world about themselves,” she said. And she’s right: fashion can be honest, it can be aspirational, and it can lie. Of course, everyone, presidential candidate or not, has the choice to engage using fashion. But that doesn’t quite detract from the voice of the clothes, which is what makes them interesting here — it’s politics.