August 21, 2018 | ° F

The Sartorial Candidates


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The Tuesday after the first Monday of November always means Election Day. While Candidates may have already found out if they won or lost, the issue of style versus substance remains. Inside Beat investigates the new way of power dressing and the mania surrounding it.

Like it or not, the clothes we wear every day send distinct messages to strangers. No one understands this better than politicians, who spend millions of dollars on image-enhancing campaigns meant to gain voters. While clothing choices may not be the first topic discussed on The Billy O'Reilly Show or Anderson Cooper 360, fashion undoubtedly marks politicians and diplomats.

Think back to the 2008 election, in which Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency. According to The New York Times, the highest-paid person on Republican rival John McCain's staff for the first half of October was Amy Strozzi, Sarah Palin's makeup artist. A former employee of Dancing With the Stars, Strozzi made $22,800 in two weeks alone. Palin's hair stylist also earned $10,000. While many poked fun at Palin and her political experience, including Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey, she always looked good on high definition television.

Being a stylish member of Washington, D.C., though, also has its drawbacks. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois, has been featured in photo shoots for multiple magazines. With his toned body and boyish looks, it's been for many to take him seriously. In response to his shirtless photos for Men's Health this past June, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced, "As Americans continue to sour on the Republicans' extreme, partisan plan to end Medicare, Representative Aaron Schock (IL-18) employed an unusual tactic to distract from his vote. Schock took to the cover of Men's Health where he exposed everything, but his drastic plans to end Medicare." Ouch.


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Photo: Chuck Kennedy


Of course, First Lady Michelle Obama is often mentioned in fashion magazines and talk shows as being an example of tasteful, 21st-century American fashion. A fan of Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung and J. Mendel, her appearance on the cover of VOGUE Magazine cemented her status as the "First Lady of American fashion." Many, including VOGUE editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, count themselves among her admirers.

Obama, though, faces constant pressure from the media...including over her attire. Robin Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington fashion reporter for Newsweek, has attacked the First Lady's ensembles. Wearing shorts on a First Family vacation was deemed "common." Just last week Givhan critiqued Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's attire during a press conference, where he shot down claims of sexual harassment: "There are those who believe a double-breasted suit conveys a certain elegance of a bygone era, calling to mind Humphrey Bogart in a white dinner jacket or Gianni Agnelli with his dashing and eclectic style...But in this more casual age-when the ‘suits' are feeling the rage of Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and anyone who has helplessly watched the rapid decline of their 401(k)-Cain's garb carries with it a sort of haughty swagger."

Haughty swagger, though, is something found in most Hollywood films that depict American politics. While most of these feature corruption and a cynical view of American society as major plot points, it's hard to forget characters' smart ensembles. Classics like The Manchurian Candidate and The Man Who Knew Too Much all featured luxe menswear. Even more recent political thrillers show people gathering behind national monuments to exchange secrets while sporting trench coats and bespoke suits. The Ides of March is one such example.

Regardless, Givhan's sharp criticism of the styles on parade in Washington reveals the enormous weight that image carries for public figures. Major news publications feature more fashion articles than ever before. ?For example, Newsweek recently covered up-and-coming Muslim models who balance their faith with their professional lives.

Like it or not, politicians will always like to shop - they're just like the rest of us. At the end of the day, though, your decision in the voting booth should really come down to one thing: not the label on a politician's power suit, but his or her actual viewpoints and expertise.

Zoe Szathmary

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