Electoral Math – The High Cost of Looking Good

November 2, 2008 • Magazine

Electoral Math - The High Cost of Looking Good

Electoral Math - The High Cost of Looking Good

Fri, 2008-10-31 22:00

Joseph Ungoco

As someone who spends more on alterations annually than most people spend on their entire wardrobe, I am loathe to talk money when it comes to fashion. My addiction is somewhat embarrassing and someone is sure to be offended or somehow wind up feeling sartorially inadequate. However, I now have to break this rule because the international press has made so much fuss over the $150,000 that the Republican National Committee spent on Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s wardrobe makeover. What should it cost to look good to voters — and, indeed, the rest of the world? Can the cost of a candidate’s wardrobe cost her politically? Let’s see…

Awhile back, I wrote about Michelle Obama’s $150 White House Black Market dress that sold out after her appearance on The View. Recently, she appeared on The Tonight Show wearing a J. Crew ensemble that cost roughly $300. Her appearance caused a similar spike in sales. The skirt alone, the Pembridge Dot Pencil Skirt, cost $150. No one seemed to notice — or care — that this outfit cost twice as much as the previous one. No one inferred that if she were First Lady she would push her husband to double spending on entitlement programs. Likewise, no one applauded her for buying American.

Last fall, on the Monday before New York Fashion Week, Cindy McCain and First Lady Laura Bush appeared at the Republican National Convention, each stunning in her own way in Oscar de la Renta. An Associated Press reporter published a widely syndicated article in which she quoted a national magazine editor as saying that the total cost of Mrs. McCain’s outfit was over $300,000. The blogosphere — where journalistic integrity, let along fact checking, is virtually unknown — soon ran with the story that the “outfit” cost $300,000. The truth is that the editor valued her jewelry — Chanel J12 watch, diamond earrings, and four-strand pearl necklace — at close to $300,000. Her saffron colored silk shirt dress only cost about $3,000.

That same night, Mrs. Bush wore a conservative cream colored skirt suit. The same magazine editor valued the suit at $2,500. However, as any good fashionista with a Neiman-Marcus card knows, Oscar de la Renta’s ready-to-wear suits are sold as separates and a jacket alone costs $2,500. The skirt, or a pair of matching pants, would run another $800 or $900, bringing the total cost of the outfit to about $3,400. Strange that no one commented at the time on how much more economical Mrs. McCain’s choice was.

Back in 2000, when then First Lady Hillary Clinton was running for Senator of New York State, she went to Oscar de la Renta and ordered up six identical dark pant suits which she accessorized with pastel colored twin sets as her official campaign wardrobe. Why? Because if she always wore the same thing at every appearance, the press would not make her clothes the issue. The press had no choice but to report on her actual political platform. No one even reported on what those pant suits cost — roughly $3,500 each, if you’ve been paying attention!

So, why all the fuss now about fashion and what it costs? Because when you’re a high profile political wife or a powerful political player yourself, you have a responsibility to represent your constituency to the rest of the world. What you wear sends a message to the world. A few years ago, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped out at Weisbaden Army Airfield in Germany wearing knee high stiletto-heeled boots, she showed the American people and the rest of the world that she was a strong woman. Her detractors called it dominatrix fashion and deemed it too sexy. Her supporters praised her for being both strong and sexy. No one seemed to care at all who made them or what they cost.

For Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, who also just happens to be Governor Palin of Alaska, the national and international fashion buzz all seemed to begin with her unusually stylish — for a politician — choice of eyewear. She appeared at the Republican National Convention wearing a pair of customized titanium eyeglass frames designed by Japanese designer Kazuo Kawasaki. Her appearance sparked a worldwide run on those particular frames, despite their $375 price tag. That’s the base price for the frames — without optics. No one at the time really commented on whether the cost of the frames was outrageous or not. If you like your optics high end like I do, you know that loading up with Zeiss high index super thin lenses with a flash coating more than doubles the total cost. No one seemed at all outraged that they were from Japan. No one inferred that, as Vice President, she might be soft on Japanese automotive and electronic import policy.

Look at Governor Palin’s appearance in September at the Republican National Convention where she accepted her party’s nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate — wearing Valentino! The bitchy bloggers balked at the $2,500 price tag. The even bitchier gay bloggers excoriated her for the “hypocrisy” of spending good ole American dollars to support the opulent lifestyle of a gay designer in Europe while opposing same sex marriage in America.

What has happened to us since then? Flash forward to the weeks leading up the election, when everything is an issue and both sides are playing, shall we way, a little less cleanly than they promised to when it all started. The astronomically high cost of fashion becomes the issue, but let’s get back to what’s really important here. Female politicians and political wives have a responsibility to represent the best that America has to offer to the world. The issue is not what these women’s clothes cost; it’s where they are made. Regardless of your own party affiliation and political beliefs, urge your elected officials and political wives to promote American fashion!

1. Michelle Obama in J. Crew on The Tonight Show
2. Cindy McCain in Oscar de la Renta at the Republican National Convention 2008
3. Lady Laura Bush in Oscar de la Renta at the Republican National Convention 2008
4. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Weisbaden Army Airfield in Germany
5. Hillary Clinton in Oscar de la Renta campaigning in 2000
6. Sarah Palin in Kazuo Kawasaki eyeglass frames at the Republican National Convention 2008
7. Sarah Palin in Valentino at the Republican National Convention 2008

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