The ideology of fashion

| Fashion Columnist

Michelle Obama speaks to the public in a modern, preppy-chic attire.

In the fashion world, “conservative” means high collars and knee-length skirts or perhaps a bit of lace paired with a monochromatic outfit. During election season, though, “conservative” takes on a new meaning—it is how you are voting, your ideology and, by association, your state of mind. As Ann Romney and Michelle Obama strut their styles along the campaign trail, I got to thinking, “What is fashion but a reflection of your own state of mind?” There’s a reason why you choose to button up for cocktail parties and button down for bars or pull on a comfy sweater for late-night studying at the library. The thought is radical, but perhaps fashionistas are swayed by similar motives as were Tuesday’s voters: geography, class, mood and popular culture. To what degree do our ideology and the way we vote reflect our personal style?

Realistically, everything is not so red and blue. The members of the Republican Party are not all clad in boxy, dated suits, and Democrats don’t generally don youthful clothing with hippie flowers in their hair. However, during campaign season, these stereotypes are not as far-fetched as they may seem. Audience members and political celebrities at the Democratic and Republican conventions worked their stereotypes, using their image to emphasize further their political ideology. At the Republican National Convention, delegates flaunted their national pride with sequins, patriotic accessories and elephant pins and jewelry, proudly bearing the jewels and bright colors of their conservative creed. Most of the speakers, Condoleezza Rice included, remained neutral in their grey and black-suited palettes. They worked the older and traditional audience in their conservative clothing, with Chanel tweed and pinstripes of the past. The attendees of the Democratic National Convention were not necessarily in donkey gear, but Charlotte, N.C., housed the clothing of a younger generation, suited-up celebrities and a suited-down cross-dresser in a rainbow sash.

As representations of their respective parties, the potential first ladies most often dress to impress. As public figures, each of their ensembles is costume-like in precision. Their clothes are modern, approachable takes on each of their own personal styles, which elevates them to the stage of a political figure. This level of style takes “Who Wore It Best?” to a whole new level. So who wore it best? The pinks at the second presidential debate were purposefully neutral and eerily similar.  Obama’s short suit exuded the authority of her current role as first lady; her cropped jacket maintained the modern take that generally accompanies her for-the-people style. Recent criticisms against the Romneys’ social status could have been the motive behind Ann Romney’s more playful choice. With a turquoise necklace against a pink dress, Romney contrasted brights in a friendly and welcoming manner.

Ann Romney’s red at the Republican National Convention was tasteful yet blatant; she promoted her husband’s cause in the color of his party and a high-collared conservative dress—a clear reflection of Mitt Romney’s gendered values. Sartorially, she is a “modern conservative,” shying away from the boxy suits of ghosts of first ladies past. However, she remains nearly a decade older than her Democratic counterpart as does the audience to which she is appealing. With this in mind, we forgive her for donning the occasional blue pantsuit while attending campaign events.

Michelle Obama’s style is no new topic for the fashion reader; her preppy-chic White House wear has been featured in the pages of many a well-respected fashion magazine. She speaks to her Democratic loyalty not through the colors of her clothing but rather through the designers she wears, which are generally of the All-American genre. Perhaps more significantly, her style exudes the accessibility that her husband promotes. She flaunts everyday-wear designers like J. Crew and Ann Taylor, creating a significant contrast to Ann Romney’s often-flashy Oscar de la Renta dresses.

Historically, it is contestable that style plays a significant role in voters’ minds. It was John F. Kennedy’s suave appearance over Nixon’s in the U.S.’s first televised debate that won the American people over and his oval-shaped-sunglasses-clad wife that kept him in their hearts. And while perhaps our concrete ideological beliefs were at the forefront of our minds yesterday, we style-minded individuals couldn’t help but ponder the role of fashion in this campaign madness. And of course, we couldn’t help anticipate the next sartorial moves of our country’s future first lady—Michelle Obama.

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