Potential First Ladies Walk The Fashion Tightrope

What Do You Think?

hide captionComment on the first ladies' fashion and read about what Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin could learn from Dick Cheney's sartorial mishap on the Vox Politics blog.

Cindy McCain appears with Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show.' i i

hide captionRepublican first lady hopeful Cindy McCain often differentiates her style from that of current first lady Laura Bush, with bright yellow and shiny leather. Here, she appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

NBC/AP
Cindy McCain appears with Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show.'

Republican first lady hopeful Cindy McCain often differentiates her style from that of current first lady Laura Bush, with bright yellow and shiny leather. Here, she appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

NBC/AP

In its 200 year-history, the White House has not been a treasure trove of fashion-forward First Ladies. It can't be; a successful first lady profile is a delicate amalgam of not-too-bright, not-too-tight, not-too low-cut and not-too expensive.

"If her husband is running for president," says Letitia Baldrige, "she has to watch everything." As social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, Baldrige knows the impact clothes can have on public perception of a politician.

Today's First Ladies have to look stylish, but not too stylish, Baldrige says, or they're dismissed as indulgent.

"I think it would be wrong for today's first lady to go around like a princess all the time," she warns. "But I think it would be very wrong of her when she's on an official job to be dressed too casually. She's always got to be a bit above."

Fashionable — in an accessible way. That's why Michelle Obama was named to Vanity Fair's 2008 International Best Dressed List, says list curator Amy Fine Collins.

"She has a way of dressing that cuts across ethnic, color and class lines," Collins explains, noting the black-and-white sundress Obama wore to guest host on ABC's The View, "sold out all across the country."

Cindy McCain's polished affluence surprises, too. There haven't been many high profile politician's wives who've braved the campaign trail in whip-stitched leather or skinny jeans!

The fact that these strong women can comfortably wear such varied clothes is a good sign, says first lady historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony.

"They seem really comfortable in whatever they're wearing," he says. "These aren't costumes."

Anthony interprets this as a subliminal cue to voters, that, "I'm confident."

And lest naysayers shrug off conversations about what first ladies — or potential ones — choose to wear, Robin Givhan, Pulitzer prize-winning fashion editor for The Washington Post has a question for you: If clothes don't count, why is the "interview suit" so important?"

Givhan says she'll be watching both political conventions closely to check the sartorial semaphores. She's hoping for "some significant fashion moments."

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