Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ oversized sunglasses, Barbara Bush’s bold pearl necklaces, Michelle Obama’s cozy-chic cardigans — when it comes to fashion in the White House, the nation’s first ladies have historically overshadowed their presidential spouses.
With America on the brink of possibly electing its first woman president, would things be different if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton were elected? Would the sartorial gaze shift to potential first gentleman Bill Clinton? And even if Republican candidate Donald Trump wins on Tuesday, what part should fashion play in politics in general?
Ms. Clinton’s penchant for pantsuits has made headlines alongside the choices of Mr. Trump’s wife Melania’s fuchsia Gucci pussy-bow blouse (an eyebrow-raising choice after the “Access Hollywood” tape of her husband’s disparaging comments about women was released) and white, bell-sleeved Roksanda Ilincic dress, which quickly sold out after she wore it to the Republican National Convention.
In fact, the former secretary of state has been sparking clothing sales of her own; a resurgence this season of tailored color-blocked pantsuits on the runway, for instance, is being attributed to “the Hillary Clinton effect.”
“Certainly there is coverage of what she’s wearing and why she’s wearing it,” says Dana Brown, executive director for the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, which prepares women for public leadership through college-level and community programs. She’s also an assistant professor of political science at Chatham University. “But there does seem to be some concerted effort to use that potentially to her advantage.”
Take her decision to wear white to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention and to the final presidential debate. This was widely viewed as a nod to women in the suffrage movement, in which white was a predominant color. (In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro also wore a white pantsuit to give her convention speech, becoming the first female vice presidential candidate for a major party ticket.) Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton’s loyalty to Ralph Lauren — who outfitted her for the convention, all three presidential debates and the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner — has been interpreted as a sign of her support for American craftsmanship and businesses.
Supporters have adopted her signature style. In recent weeks, “pantsuit power” flash mobs have popped up across the country, attracting hundreds of colorful suit-clad dancers out into public squares. Even the Clinton campaign launched a pantsuit tee in its online store to promote the candidate while also poking fun at her once-ridiculed ensemble.
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