Fashion Bytes — Fashion as a Political Campaign Tactic

The New York Times entitled its analysis of Ann Romney’s campaign style “Writing Her Own Dress Code“. The article goes on for two pages, looking in detail at not only Mrs Romney’s clothing choices and their implications and the messages they send, but at the clothing of Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and the usual attire of “women on the stump”. Siobhan Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, is quoted referring to Mrs Romney’s campaign wardrobe as a “political tool”. The many analysts refer to her choices as consciously or unconsciously acting to counterbalance her husband’s stiffness, as a humanizing element to the campaign, and as a way of expressing her own personality and identity in a situation where most spouses are relegated to the background.

Worn Through has frequently discussed the politics of fashion. Tove has written about the Yippies and about clothing choices as political protest. Fashion Bytes has covered the politics behind the French “burqa ban”, and the media hullabaloo over Hina Rabbani Khar’s fashion sense, and the general media obsession with political women who break the “traditional” style mould. The article about Ann Romney seems to be more of the same, yet more. Instead of fashion as protest, it seems to confirm fashion’s importance in society by showcasing how clothing can be used as a political tactic, whether that use is consciously or unconsciously done. What is interesting is that yet again — as with Hina Rabbani Khar — it seems that only women’s fashion choices have this potential power.

What are your thoughts regarding the devotion of two pages of a major newspaper website to analyzing one woman’s wardrobe? What do you think of wardrobe stylists on the campaign trail? Is it a validation of the importance of clothes? Is it proof that women are now acknowledged as — even expected to be — equal partners to our political candidates? How often is clothing used as a political campaign tactic? Was Sarah Palin’s (in)famous campaign wardrobe a fluke, or is it more the norm than we realize? Ann Romney brags about “dressing her husband”; and if men make daring clothing choices in politics it would signal political ruin. Is there a subtext of sexism going on here? How could we begin to change that stereotype? What other ways can fashion be used as a political campaign tactic? How has it been used in the past?

Please share your thoughts.

Image via ABC News.

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1 Comment

  • Marliese Thomas July 17, 2012 04.33 pm

    I don’t think it’s just women, though they certainly get more of the scrutiny and judgement. I remember comparisons of John Kerry and George Bush in 2004 with lifestyle and wardrobe playing a role, however subtle. Kerry wore sweaters knotted over his shoulders and open-collared shirts, plus there was the photo of him sailing in his swim trunks. Contrast that with Bush usually in cowboy boots and barn jackets. They were both setting a tone, telling the story of their respective roots, even if they did both go to ivy league universities.


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