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					                 THE POLITICS OF FASHION




                         A Case Study

                         Submitted to




THE FACULTY OF THE PUBLIC COMMUNICATION GRADUATE PROGRAM

                SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION

                  AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

                    WASHINGTON, D.C.



                 In Candidacy for the Degree of

                        Master of Arts


                              By

                        Natalie M. Peart


                           May 2009
                                                                                               1

                                            Abstract


                                  Title: The Politics of Fashion

       During the 2008 Presidential election, the appearance and fashions worn by Cindy

McCain, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were under constant scrutiny. This

study sought to determine why society places so much emphasis on fashion and appearance,

especially that of a woman. Media coverage of these women was analyzed to conclude whether

or not their appearance affected how they were perceived. It proved that fashion, a form of

nonverbal communication, can be strategically used to convince others to think a certain way

about someone else.
                                                  2



                    Table of Contents


Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………..3



Methodology………………………………………………………………………………………5



Literature Review………………………………………………………………………………….6



Cindy McCain……………………………………………………………………………………18



Michelle Obama………………………………………………………………………………….23



Sarah Palin……………………………………………………………………………………….29



Hillary Clinton…………………………………………………………………………………...34



Analysis…………………………………………………………………………………………..39



Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………….42



References………………………………………………………………………………………..43
                                                                                                                 3

                                                  Introduction

        Fashion can be defined as a continually evolving, self-expressive concept. It is a way to

show an extension of one’s personality. In a society obsessed with fashion and beauty, image is

everything. What a person wears or does not wear will determine how he or she is perceived.

Clothing has the capability to empower, create prestige or increase sexual attractiveness. 1 Dress

is not only a powerful form of nonverbal communication; it is also very persuasive.

        Fashion played a major role in the 2008 Presidential Election. There was extensive media

coverage involving the candidates and their spouse’s appearance. While some were criticized for

their lack of style, others were hailed as fashion icons. Because appearance and persuasion are

intertwined, outfits and accessories had to be chosen wisely. Any misstep could be damaging to

one’s influence or campaign.

        However, this was not the first time that looks and appearance were influential in politics.

On September 26, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard Nixon

participated in the first, televised Presidential debate. Nearly seventy-million Americans watched

the debate on television, while a large percentage of the population chose to listen to it on the

radio. 2 Nixon was hospitalized a month before the debate and lost a noticeable amount of weight.

He arrived in an ill-fitting shirt and refused make-up to darken his pale complexion. 3 Kennedy,

on the other hand, had recently returned from California, visiting with friends and campaigning.

California’s sunny climate gave the presidential hopeful a beautiful tan to accompany his fitted

suit and pressed shirt. Both presidential hopefuls spoke eloquently when answering their


1
  Schneider, Jane. “From potlatch to Wal-Mart: Courtly and capitalist hierarchies through dress.” The Fabric of
cultures: Fashion, Identity, and Globalization. Eds. Eugenia Paulicelli and Hazel Clark. New York: Routledge, 2009.
13.
2
  “1960: Kennedy-Nixon Debates.” Eagleton Institute of Politics. 2004. 2 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/e-gov/e-politicalarchive-JFK-Nixon.htm>.
3
  Allen, Erika Tyner. “The Kennedy-Nixon Presidential debates, 1960” The Museum of Broadcast Communications.
2 Apr. 2009. < http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/K/htmlK/kennedy-nixon/kennedy-nixon.htm>.
                                                                                                         4

questions. Listeners agreed that Nixon was better, while viewers favored Kennedy. Studies and

further research determined that television viewers were distracted by Nixon’s sickly appearance

and focused more on what they saw than what they heard. 4 It was concluded that Kennedy’s

charisma and good looks gave him the extra boost to win the debate and eventually win the

presidency. The outcome of the debates is more proof that appearance is as important as

substance.

        There is an interesting relationship between fashion and gender. Men have less dress

options that are considered to be culturally appropriate. A man’s clothing must project

masculinity. Women, on the other hand, can project masculinity or femininity in their clothing

and accessories. This notion is a reflection of the cultural shift of American society and the

blurriness of gender roles. Women are no longer limited in education and career advancement.

Because of these changes, fashion plays an even greater role in how society views women.

        This paper will examine the role of fashion in the 2008 presidential election. The

prominent women of this campaign were Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain, Sarah Palin and

Hillary Clinton. Their appearance and media coverage will be analyzed to determine what

impact, if any, they had on how they were portrayed or perceived.




4
 Allen, Erika Tyner. “The Kennedy-Nixon Presidential debates, 1960” The Museum of Broadcast Communications.
2 Apr. 2009. < http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/K/htmlK/kennedy-nixon/kennedy-nixon.htm>.
                                                                                                 5

                                          Methodology

       The clothing and accessories worn by Cindy McCain, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama

and Sarah Palin were frequently scrutinized during the 2008 presidential campaign. This study

seeks to determine the importance of their appearance and how it affected their image. In

addition the study will uncover the media’s rationale for placing so much attention on the

fashions worn by these four women. Most importantly, the research will address the

effectiveness of their dress and what their styles communicated.

       Secondary research on nonverbal communication and appearance will serve as the

foundation to understand fashion, its relevance in society and how it can be used to

communicate. Then the personal style of each individual will be explored and analyzed to review

how each was portrayed in the media during the campaign.

       Ultimately the study will analyze the role that fashion played in the 2008 Presidential

campaign and what it said about each woman. Because fashion is directly tied to how one thinks

of others, it is important to determine if how these women looked had an impact on how America

viewed them.
                                                                                                       6

                                                    Literature Review

           Flugal states that it is the indirect expression of an individual through his or her garments

that tells people that whom they see is someone they know. When humans meet someone that

they do not know, the clothes that person is wearing immediately signify something of his or her

sex, occupation, nationality and social standing. 5 Before the person can speak, the other will

make a preliminary judgment based on what they are wearing.

           The author says that to understand the existence of fashion in the modern world, one must

examine the psychological and social causes that maintain it. Flugal separates this idea into two

concepts; the why and how of fashion.

           The essential cause and reasoning of fashion is rooted in competition. An inconsistency is

presented in fashion because everyone is simultaneously trying to be like and unlike others. To

be like someone else is to regard them as superiors, whereas to be unlike them is to be more

fashionable or better. The why of fashion implies a definite variability of the social structure of a

community.

           The how of fashion is the most difficult to answer because fashions themselves do not

magically appear. Though a designer may create something, it must be approved and accepted by

the majority to be considered fashionable. Whoever is involved in this process must have great

influence. Moreover, new fashions have to be in accordance with present ideals in order to be

successful.

           Blumer argues that fashion needs to be recognized as a central mechanism in forming

social order in a modern type of world. Fashion is not limited to adornment and is much more

than a trivial subject. It is a continuously evolving concept that is constantly at work. To

understand the process of fashion, one must consider its historical continuity, modernity, the role
5
    Flugel, J.C. The Psychology of clothes. London: Hogarth, 1950.
                                                                                                                7

of collective taste in its operation and the psychological motives which are assumed to account

for it. 6 A person that is fashion conscious is cautious and wary when choosing clothing items

that will help him or her remain “in style.” Consequently, people who follow fashion have less

dress options than those that do not.

        The first feature of the fashion mechanism is historical continuity, which says that new

fashions are derived from the old ones. Trendsetters must consider the existing fashion to move

from it or elaborate on it, making fashion continual. The second feature of fashion, modernity, is

important because fashion must be modern and keep up with the current time. Fashion must be

responsive to new developments and major social shifts. If it does not, it will lose its relevance

and value.

         There are many psychological motives that lead people to partake or indulge in fashion.

While some view fashion as a method of escape from boredom and confinement, others see it as

playful and quirky. People also have varying ideas on what fashion can do for them; it can

increase attractiveness or elevate social class. Therefore, thoughts and decisions about fashion

are psychological.

        Fashion adoption is a fundamental part of human behavior. 7 A fashion helps to enhance

one’s lifestyle and reflect the culture in which one lives. When a previously accepted fashion is

replaced, it is a sign that the society has changed. Certain styles allow people to manage their

appearance and make deliberate impressions on others. Fashion is much more than clothing; it

includes behavior, mode of dress, etiquette and style of speech for the time period. Furthermore,

an individual can use fashion to communicate his or her age, sex, occupation or status. There are


6
  Blumer, Herbert. “Fashion: From class differentiation to collective selection.” The Sociological Quarterly. 10.3
(1969) 28 Mar. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4104916>.
7
  Sproles, George B., and Leslie Davis Burns. Changing Appearances: Understanding dress in contemporary society.
New York: Fairchild, 1994.
                                                                                                                 8

four major theories that examine the start and spread of fashion trends. Trends do not create

themselves; someone has to say whether or not they should be accepted. The upper-class

leadership theory implies that a new fashion begins in the upper class and trickles down to be

copied by the lower class. Moreover, this theory says the fashions adopted by the upper class are

symbols of exclusivity. The mass-market theory, also known as the trickle-across theory,

suggests that new fashions are available to all social classes at the same time due to mass

marketing. The sub-cultural innovation theory is the exact opposite of the upper class leadership

theory and states that new trends originate from the lower classes and are eventually

disseminated to the entire population. The final theory, innovativeness and collective selection,

suggests that anybody can be a fashion innovator as long as the trend is collectively approved by

the mass population.

        Fashion has several social-psychological meanings. It must be contemporary and modern

because humans have a natural desire to be up to date and keep up with what is currently going

on. Because people have to adjust to an evolving society, the clothing and accessories must do

the same. Fashion helps people to adjust and accept change. People that constantly seek change

can use new fashions as a method to escape boredom with existing ones. In sum, fashion must

satisfy the psychological needs of society.

        Kaiser states that minding appearances is a process through which the awareness of

having various identities can be explored and evaluated. 8 This process considers how appearance

represents or creates personal truths. It is a vital part of daily life that permits interactions.

Minding appearances allows people to sort through possibilities and separate them according to

what is attainable and what is not. Style and truth are the two concepts that characterize minding


8
 Kaiser, Susan. “Minding appearances: Style, truth and subjectivity.” Body Dressing. Eds. Joanne Entwistle and
Elizabeth Wilson. Oxford: Berg, 2001. 79-81.
                                                                                                                  9

appearances. Style is more than type of dress; it can also characterize gender and sexuality. In

order to appear a certain way, people often emphasize their gender. A man might do this by

wearing a business suit while a woman might wear a dress, high heels and earrings. In short,

gender is an identity that is communicated through style. People can also use style to show more

than one identity.

           Truth is essential to minding appearances because one must be with oneself and others

when conveying an identity. The process of minding appearances is continual and constant as

people ask themselves whether they are projecting an accurate representation. Kaiser adds that

there is not a “true self” waiting to be found under the disguise of an appearance. Minding

appearances helps the individual make the best approximation of who one is and who he or she

might become. Therefore truth is based on a self-correcting process of understanding oneself.

Unlike style, truth is reflexive and lacks flexibility.

           It is difficult for people to encourage the trust of people that they do not know. Because

of this people use their outward appearance to demonstrate that they are aware of the behavior

that is expected of them. Dress can reinforce self-restraint and enable goal-directed behavior.

Many people attempt to project the desired image, knowing that people find significance in such

cues as manner of dress, body position, gestures and facial expression. 9

           Rubinstein states that the connotation of appearance in the public place depends on its

relevance to social rewards. There are three interactional spaces that explain the need for

diversity in appearance; front stage, backstage and outside region. A person giving a speech is an

example of a front stage interaction. When people are in the front stage interaction space, they

are aware that they are subject to criticism or praise. Attire and demeanor are very important to

ensure that the individual connects with the audience. If a president wore jeans to a press
9
    Rubinstein, Ruth P. Dress Codes: Meanings and messages in American culture. Boulder: Westview, 2001. 52-56.
                                                                                                             10

conference, he or she would not be taken seriously and lose the attention and respect of the

audience.

        In the backstage space, people prepare themselves for the front stage. Locker and

dressing rooms are examples of backstage areas. It is in these places that people can be

themselves and do not have to worry about appearance. Clothing and behavior are not

scrutinized and the individual does not have to create or maintain an image.

        Appearance has the least social value in the outside region interaction space. The

individual has no role relationships to establish or maintain. Outward appearance has little

relevance because there are not any expectations. People walking to work are in the outside

region because they usually do not know the people they are passing on the street and have no

need to interact with them or prove something.

        Chapkis says that type of dress is instrumental in a person becoming successful. The

image of success is as equally important as the path taken to reach it. Appearance is weighed

more heavily than intellect and drive. Those that are successful in their endeavors tend to gather

to be among similar people and also to see themselves reflected in each other’s appearance. 10

Looking as if one is doing well is a strategy that allows people to join a particular status group.

Roach-Higgins et al. state that dress is an assemblage of modifications of the body and or

supplements to the body. 11 Dress covers everything from pierced ears to styled hair. The authors

claim that this definition leads some to believe the false notion that the term is interchangeable

with terms such as appearance, adornment and apparel. Roach-Higgins et al. explain why the

term dress is more comprehensive and its difference in meaning to similar terms. Dress

comprises more than appearance because it includes body modifications and supplements that

10
 Chapkis, Wendy. Beauty Secrets: Women and the politics of appearance. Boston: South End, 1986. 56-57.
11
 Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen and Joanne B. Eicher. “Dress and identity.” Dress and Identity. Eds. Mary Ellen
Roach-Higgins, Joanne B. Eicher and Kim K. P. Johnson. New York: Fairchild, 1995. 7-10.
                                                                                                               11

cover all the senses. A woman’s perfume is part of her dress and not appearance because others

cannot see the perfume but only smell it. Adornment and ornamentation are different from dress

because they have aesthetic connotation and are viewed as positive and beautiful. Whether

attractive or not, all body modifications are still part of dress.

        The word clothing is especially limited because it only refers to apparel or items that

cover the body. Clothing can have positive or negative attachments. For example, society says

that clothing that sufficiently covers is good while clothing that does not is inappropriate.

Fashion is far removed from dress because it is transient and constantly changing. Fashion trends

typically last for a few months before they are replaced; dress is static. Moreover, all types of

dress cannot qualify as a fashion.

        Kaiser states that appearance has an influence on behavior. Studies show that attractive

people tend to be more assertive and outspoken, while unattractive people are more shy and

demure. 12 Clothing also affects how one behaves. When people wear business attire, they tend to

be more reserved and well-spoken than when they dress casually. A suit communicates that one

seeks to do business and deserves to be taken seriously. The decision of what one will wear is

partly based on his or her interpretations of what others expect.

        Dress marks the boundary between the individual and society and serves as a visual

metaphor for identity. 13 A person’s style of dress is controlled by social forces and subject to

social and moral demands. While people have to appear dressed, what constitutes dress is

dependent upon one’s culture. Appropriate dress varies and is based on the situation and

occasion.


12
   Kaiser, Susan B. The social psychology of clothing: symbolic appearances in context. New York: Macmillan,
1990. 195.
13
   Entwistle, Joanne. “The Dressed Body.” Body Dressing. Eds. Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wilson. Oxford:
Berg, 2001. 33-37.
                                                                                                               12

        According to Solomon and Rabolt, one’s concept of self will affect how he or she

dresses. Self concept can be defined as the beliefs a person holds about his or her attributes and

how he or she evaluates these qualities. 14 There are many components that help analyze self-

concept and its relationship with clothing and appearance. Self as structure is evident when

people categorize clothing and accessories as “like them” or “unlike them.” Self process refers to

the ongoing examination and refinement of self. Some people continually change themselves for

the benefit or approval of others. Our self image is based on a combination of how we see

ourselves and how others see us. When people share their opinions about us, it has an effect on

our perception. We might dress or carry ourselves differently if we know that the people close to

us do not approve. One’s level of self-esteem can be expressed through dress. When people feel

good about themselves, they emphasize their appearance. People with low self esteem have a

tendency to be more self-conscious, either ignoring their appearance all together or

overemphasizing it.

        Feminism is one of the biggest obstacles to fashion in that it encourages women to wear

more functional types of clothing rather than impractical. Feminists believe that women dress

how they think they should dress because of cultural roles. They are also against the notion that

women have to dress in an overly feminine nature to be considered beautiful. Focusing too much

on the look takes away from the art of fashion. 15 In short, feminists hope that people will no

longer be judged by appearance and that each gender is equally judged and held to the same

standards.




14
   Solomon, Michael R. and Nancy J. Rabolt. Consumer behavior in fashion. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2004.
143.
15
   Negrin, Llewellyn. Appearance and identity: Fashioning the body in postmodernity. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2008.
                                                                                                               13

        There is no longer a separate style of dress for each gender. In the mid-nineties designers

began to create androgynous garments that earned a lot of attention. Pantsuits and ties were

combined with feminine blouses and accessories to present a unique, modern look for women.

As fashion has changed, the distinction between masculinity and femininity has been

renegotiated as women have ventured more toward masculine influenced identities. As a result,

sexual identity is now blurred and gender distinctions are decreasing. People learn the

appropriate dress for their genders as they grow up. It is imperative that one is aware of his or her

gender role to they look how they are expected to. Color, structure, design and texture are some

of the characteristics that distinguish male dress from female dress. 16

        Fashion has changed a lot over the last thirty years. It moved from oppressive to self

expressive. This shift is a reflection of the social freedom of society. However, as more and more

attention is placed on outward appearance, the meaning of dress becomes more ambiguous. 17

        Keenan argues that dress freedom is a social freedom; a freedom to depart from the

normative sartorial expectations of our social group. 18 Most people are less likely to deviate

from “normal” dress to avoid being excluded from society. Though our society is now more

open-minded, the boundaries of dress tolerance and freedom have not expanded. Dress deviance

now appears to be intentionally resistant to cultural norms. Though Americans are allowed to

wear whatever they want, no one is immune to scrutiny and judgment based on dress. Any type

of dress will lead people to draw conclusions.




16
   Eicher, Joanne B. and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins. “Dress, gender and age.” Dress and Identity. Eds. Mary Ellen
Roach-Higgins, Joanne B. Eicher, and Kim K. P. Johnson. New York: Fairchild, 1995. 101-105.
17
   Negrin, Llewellyn. Appearance and identity: Fashioning the body in postmodernity. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2008.
18
   Keenan, William J. F. “Sartor Resartus Restored: Dress studies in Carlylean Perspective.” Dressed to Impress-
Looking the Part. Ed. William J. F. Keenan. Oxford: Berg, 2001. 15.
                                                                                                            14

        Clothing plays a significant role in the workplace. Researchers have studied the role of

clothing in the work environment to discover whether or not dress is tied to advancement. Over

the last few years, workplace attire has become more relaxed and casual. It is now appropriate

for women to wear pantsuits and men to not wear ties. A study conducted n 1985 found that

women who adopted male props and symbols were more successful in a male-dominated

workplace. However, researchers warn women not to completely strip femininity from their

apparel and accessories. 19      This conclusion is less relevant given the change in society.

        Kimle and Damhorst say that women must find a balance between innovation and

conservatism in their workplace attire. 20 Wearing drab colors and outdated garments will give

the impression that one is boring or not up to date. Conversely, if a woman is overly trendy and

overdone, she will be viewed as unintelligent and will not be taken seriously. Women must

balance their wardrobe and cautiously use creativity with their dress.

        The color of one’s clothing can also impact his or her success. Research has shown that

gray, beige, maroon and a medium blue are taken seriously in the business world. 21 These colors

present an intense and focused undertone. Studies have shown that bright, pastel colors should be

avoided because they are considered to be fun and exotic. People that wear these colors in the

workplace seem playful and attention-seeking.

        The color of apparel influences our emotions and judgments. Each color invokes a

different reaction. Studies have shown that certain colors can calm people while others trigger

excitement. An individual’s opinion of a color is heavily impacted by his or her culture or

environment. Some cultures associate purple with royalty while some believe it represents

19
   Solomon, M.R. & Douglas, S.P. “The female clotheshorse: From aesthetics to tactics.” The Psychology of
Fashion. Ed. M. R. Solomon. Lexington: Heath, 1985. 387-401.
20
   Kimle, P.A. & Damhorst, M.L. (1997). “A grounded theory model of the ideal business image for women.”
Symbolic Interaction,20.1 (1997). 25 Mar. 2009. 45-68.
21
   Chapkis, Wendy. Beauty Secrets: Women and the politics of appearance. Boston: South End, 1986.
                                                                                                                 15

homosexuality. 22 Hue is not the sole determinant in the impression people get from color. A

color’s value; light versus dark, or intensity, brightness versus dullness are just as important as

the color itself. 23 A bright garment will obviously get more attention than a dull one.

In its simplest form, fashion can be identified as a symbol. Symbols are used to represent

something else. People use symbols to communicate with others. Fashion symbols are often used

to describe aspects of one’s personality. They can also present an image of modernity.

        Many parallels can be drawn regarding the relationship between fashion and language.

Messages sent through fashion symbols are emotional impressions 24 Femininity and masculinity,

power and physical attractiveness are some of the illusions that can be communicated through

clothing. When someone approaches a person that is dressed out of the ordinary, he or she will

make a judgment about that person. Therefore the response to fashion symbols is typically

nonlinguistic. The code that is used to send fashion symbols is the opposite of the one used in

verbal messages. If two people are having a conversation, one of them had to start talking first.

With fashion messages, the person being judged does not have the chance to say anything before

the judgment. The individual cannot explain or defend their dress. Fashion symbols are a form of

nonverbal communication that surpasses the spoken and written word. Besides modernity,

fashion can exhibit the society and environment one lives in. Clothing is the main element of

appearance and reflects social norms. People can either conform or rebel against the social

standards of clothing.

        According to Hoffman, there are three characteristics of fashion symbolism that

characterize it as a form of nonverbal communication. First, fashion symbols are dependent upon

22
   Carman, John. “Purple-Hue Knew? Thanks to Rev. Falwell, Color is out of closet,” San Francisco Chronicle 11
Feb. 1999, A1,A7
23
   Solomon, Michael R. and Nancy J. Rabolt. Consumer behavior in fashion. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2004.
143.
24
   Hoffman, Hans-Joachim. “How clothes communicate.” Media development 4 (1984) 1 Apr. 2009, 7-11.
                                                                                                              16

the context that they are in. A woman wearing a bridal gown at a wedding will be viewed

differently than a woman wearing a bridal gown to the mall. Each context has different

expectations. The next characteristic is fashion symbols are cast by their presence. The symbol

must be visible in order to communicate what it is intended to. Because people often cannot

control who looks at them, messages sent through fashion symbols are not private. The final trait

of fashion symbolism is a high level of inconsistency in interpretation. Though some fashion

symbols have obvious meanings, such as a swimsuit or wedding gown, others can be more

ambiguous.

        Kaiser states that appearance is a form of nonverbal communication because how we

appear to others determines how they think of us. Though we are not speaking, we are showing

aspects of personality, culture and environment. Appearances aid the interpretation and

understanding of others. An individual’s clothing, body gestures, and facial expressions are also

interpreted through nonverbal communication. Signs transmitted through appearance signal

membership in a particular group, cultural category or occupation. 25 For example, a person

wearing a police uniform is assumed to be a member of the police. However, there are times

when the meaning of clothing is ambiguous. Or has several meanings. To get a clear

interpretation, perceivers will reference the social context or setting.

        According to Kaiser, appearance communication has two dimensions; unintentional and

intentional communication. The sender may or may not be aware of the messages he or she is

sending through their appearance. The first takes place when the sender is not intentionally

trying to send a particular message or is not even aware that one is being sent. Intentional


25
  Kaiser, Susan B. The social psychology of clothing: symbolic appearances in context. New York: Macmillan,
1990. 195.
                                                                                                    17

communication is directed at the public or someone in particular. The sender is trying to get

someone’s attention or receive a response.

          O’Neal suggests that dress is a political instrument used to influence formal and informal

relationships and interactions. Its ability to exert authority and control equates it with power.

When people dress “powerfully” and present a dominant presence, they can more easily control

others.
                                                                                                        18

                                              Cindy McCain

        Cindy McCain, wife of Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, changed her look

and softened her appearance over the course of the 2008 Presidential campaign. Critics suggested

that the change was necessary for her to appear more populist than pretentious.

        Cindy Lou Hensley was born December 31, 1954 in Phoenix, Arizona. She was the only

child of James and Marguerite Hensley. Named best dressed girl in high school and crowned

Junior Rodeo Queen of Arizona, Cindy had a wonderful upbringing filled with love and wealth.

Her father, James, was a multi-millionaire beer distributor for Anheuser-Busch who showered

his daughter with whatever she wanted, including a Porsche as a high-school graduation

present. 26 Cindy graduated from the University of Southern California with a Masters degree in

special education and began teaching at a high school near Phoenix.

        While vacationing with her parents in 1979, Cindy met ex-Navy pilot and Vietnam War

captive John McCain at a cocktail party. Though still legally married, McCain pursued Cindy

and the two were married a year later. Because of John’s political ambitions, the pair relocated to

Washington, DC. After a few years in Washington, Cindy moved back to Arizona to raise the

couple’s children. For the next twenty years, the couple lived on opposite sides of the country.

        When McCain announced his bid for the presidency in April 2007, Cindy was

reintroduced to Washington and the world of politics. She began traveling with John as he

attempted to garner support.

        Her expensive taste in fashion quickly got her noticed by fashion critics and designers.

She is a classic dresser, favoring conservative high-end designers like Oscar de la Renta, Escada,




26
 Levy, Ariel. “The lonesome trail.” New Yorker. 15 Sept. 2008. 84.28: 52-61. Academic Search Premier.
EBSCOhost. American U Library, Washington. 14 Apr. 2009. <http://search.epnet.com>.
                                                                                                            19

and Carolina Herrara. 27 Cindy McCain often wore fitted blazers, tailored suits and shiny fabrics

in a variety of colors. She was frequently seen in various shades of red and gray.

        For a ceremony at the White House in June 2008, Cindy wore a tweed suit and thin

leather belt to show off her figure. Three months later, she wowed the Republican convention

with a metallic Oscar de la Renta dress. She added a Chanel watch, three carat diamond earrings,

and a four strand pearl necklace to complete her look. Vanity Fair estimated the cost of her look

that night at close to three hundred thousand dollars, assuming the jewelry was real. 28

        Cindy’s blonde hair was always age appropriate with either wispy bangs, wavy layers or

a soft bun. 29 Red lipstick and heavy black eyeliner were her make-up necessities. Her husband

teased her heavy makeup saying, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop!”, when

she teased him about his thinning hair. 30

        Throughout the campaign, she accented her outfits with Stuart Weitzman pumps, pearl

necklaces and diamond earrings. However, her most noticeable accessories were her crystal lapel

pins. The forty-five dollar brooches were designed by Washington based jeweler, Ann Hand. She

alternated between a “USMC” and “NAVY” pin to acknowledge her two sons military

affiliations. McCain also frequently wore a “Blue Star” pin, which is usually worn by relatives of

those in active duty. Toward the end of the campaign, she was spotted wearing a rhinestone

encrusted “McCain 2008” pin. Her love for brooches was more than evident in March 2008




27
   Callahan, Maureen. “Fashion First: Cindy, Michelle break dowdy First Lady Mold.” New York Post. 5 June 2008.
17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nypost.com/seven/06052008/entertainment/fashion/fashion_first_114025.htm>.
28
   Brissette Mata, Brenda. “The politics of fashion: Campaign trail puts spotlight on what women wear; whose
fashion sense do you identify with?” Flint Journal. 6 Oct. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.mlive.com/living/flint/index.ssf/2008/10/the_politics_of_fashion_campai.html>.
29
   Callahan, Maureen. “Fashion First: Cindy, Michelle break dowdy First Lady Mold.” New York Post. 5 June 2008.
17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nypost.com/seven/06052008/entertainment/fashion/fashion_first_114025.htm>.
30
   Callahan, Maureen. “Fashion First: Cindy, Michelle break dowdy First Lady Mold.” New York Post. 5 June 2008.
17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nypost.com/seven/06052008/entertainment/fashion/fashion_first_114025.htm>.
                                                                                                             20

when she wore three at once during a White House visit. 31 She has even worn them on the collar

of her turtlenecks. She was criticized for wearing them excessively and a style writer for the Los

Angeles Times compared her lapel to a Fourth of July fireworks finale. 32 Overall, she maintained

a refined style of dress throughout the campaign with an occasional fashion faux pas.

        Despite her couture-filled closet, McCain describes herself as down to earth and easy

going. She admitted that she was like any other wife and mother, constantly worrying about her

children and husband. She said that it was her role as a mother that inspired her humanitarian

efforts and founding of the American Voluntary Medical Team. In an interview with Good

Housekeeping in October 2008, she said that she no longer wanted to be “superwoman” and

instead wanted to be the best that she could. 33 She denounced claims that she was a “Stepford

Wife” and stated that though she was not very vocal, she was still very intelligent. In another

interview, she said her reserve should not be mistaken for standoffishness and that she was

actually very shy. 34 McCain stated that she was often mischaracterized and is much tougher than

one might expect. Some of her favorite pastimes include race-car driving, flying airplanes and

playing Xbox. In sum, McCain felt that her sophisticated wardrobe and appearance should not

be the basis of how the American people viewed her.

        Fashion critics were divided in their opinions of McCain’s attire. Some thought her

clothing was appropriate for her potential role as First Lady while others thought she looked

uptight and tense. Heather Laube, a sociologist in Women and Gender Studies at the University

of Michigan-Flint, described McCain’s look as the epitome of a wealthy woman and that she

31
   Corcoran, Monica. “Checking in on Cindy McCain’s lapel pins.” Los Angeles Times. 22 June 2008. 17 Apr.
2009. < http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-ig-rage22-2008jun22,0,6039625.story?track=rss>.
32
   Corcoran, Monica. “Checking in on Cindy McCain’s lapel pins.” Los Angeles Times. 22 June 2008. 17 Apr.
2009. < http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-ig-rage22-2008jun22,0,6039625.story?track=rss>.
33
   Ellis, Rosemary. “A conversation with Cindy McCain.” Good Housekeeping.com. Oct. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009. <
http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/celebrity/cindy-mccain-interview>.
34
   Dealey, Sam. “Cindy McCain rolls up her sleeves.” Marie Claire. Nov. 2008: 88. ProQuest. American U Library,
Washington. 17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.proquest.com>.
                                                                                                                 21

could get away with designer outfits because of her political affiliation. Laube suggested that her

choices in fashion and silence were to blame for her appearance as John’s accessory. 35 A

fashion writer described her as a chilly, blond beauty that lives in fear of chipping a nail. 36 The

writer added that McCain’s humanitarian efforts seemed unbelievable based on the way that she

looked and carried herself.

        Her tailored outfits gave some the impression that she was striving for perfection and did

not know how to have fun with fashion. Some said she was too polished and put together. Tim

Gunn, style expert from the fashion design based reality show “Project Runway,” described her

look as “buttoned up and duct taped.” 37

        However, McCain’s dress did not solely receive negative scrutiny. Suze Yalof Schwartz,

executive fashion director at Glamour magazine, praised her glamour and elegance saying, “She

always looks appropriate and sunny.” The fashion director also commended her ability to “dress

rich with ease.” 38 McCain’s quiet demeanor and penchant for tailored suits has led many to

compare her to Nancy Reagan, also known to wear red and high end fashion.

        Fashion heavily impacted McCain’s image. Her three hundred thousand dollar ensembles

made her seem like untouchable royalty. Her clothing was too expensive and out of reach for the

average person. 39 As a result, people could not relate to her. The fact that she owns ten houses


35
   Brissette Mata, Brenda. “The politics of fashion: Campaign trail puts spotlight on what women wear; whose
fashion sense do you identify with?” Flint Journal. 6 Oct. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.mlive.com/living/flint/index.ssf/2008/10/the_politics_of_fashion_campai.html>.
36
   Dealey, Sam. “Cindy McCain rolls up her sleeves.” Marie Claire. Nov. 2008: 88. ProQuest. American U Library,
Washington. 17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.proquest.com>.
37
   Nichols, Michelle. “Potential U.S. first ladies draw fashion buzz.” The Star Online 7 Sept. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009. <
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/9/8/worldupdates/2008-09-
07T201901Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-353602-2&sec=Worldupdates>.
38
   Callahan, Maureen. “Fashion First: Cindy, Michelle break dowdy First Lady Mold.” New York Post. 5 June 2008.
17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nypost.com/seven/06052008/entertainment/fashion/fashion_first_114025.htm>.
39
   Nichols, Michelle. “Potential U.S. first ladies draw fashion buzz.” The Star Online 7 Sept. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009. <
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/9/8/worldupdates/2008-09-
07T201901Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-353602-2&sec=Worldupdates>.
                                                                                               22

while a lot of Americans are struggling to pay for one, did not help her pompous image. Though

she described herself as a traditional American wife and mother, her clothing and appearance did

not reflect that. When asked what she wanted to do as First Lady, she shared her interest in

volunteerism and disadvantaged children in Third World countries. Unfortunately, volunteering

is not at the top of the majority of American women’s priority lists. Although McCain meant to

appear warm and loving, her appearance is the reason many could not connect with her.
                                                                                                            23

                                              Michelle Obama

        Since her husband announced his plans to run for the President of the United States,

Michelle Obama has been a permanent fixture in the media. Political commentators and bloggers

dissected her every move and remark. When asked about the Democratic Party’s nomination of

her husband in the summer of 2008, she stated that for the first time in her adult life she was

really proud of America. 40 This comment went far from unnoticed as many began questioning

her character and whether or not she was anti-American. Months later, Obama’s seemingly

unfavorable image began to wane as she shared her aspirations and love for the country at the

Democratic National Convention. Americans slowly began to accept the outspoken, potential

First Lady.

        Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born January 17, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. Fraser and

Marian Robinson raised Michelle and her older brother Craig, on Chicago’s South side. She

describes her childhood as very happy and has said that she always knew she was loved and

treasured. Marian discouraged her children from watching a lot of television and urged them to

read, focus on their homework and discuss current events. 41 Michelle’s academic capability

allowed her to skip the second grade and eventually join the gifted program at her elementary

school. In high school she excelled in Advanced Placement courses, was a member of the

National Honor Society and graduated as the salutatorian of her class. 42 In fall 1981 she joined

her older brother at Princeton University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988,

she took a job as an associate at Sidley & Austin law firm in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, she was

assigned to mentor a summer associate named Barack Obama. He was intrigued by her

40
   Watson, Elwood. “Michelle Obama: One Classy, Resilient, Intelligent First Lady.” [Weblog entry.] The Academy
Speaks. Diverse Education. 7 Apr. 2009. (http://diverseeducation.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/michelle-obama-one-
classy-resilient-intelligent-first-lady/). 21 Apr. 2009.
41
   Michelle Obama: America’s First Lady, More Than Camelot. Bart T. Senior. 2009
42
   Michelle Obama: America’s First Lady, More Than Camelot. Bart T. Senior. 2009
                                                                                                        24

intelligence and began to pursue her. She was initially hesitant, claiming that it would be

awkward and tacky. 43 She eventually relented after a few more attempts and the pair married in

1992.

        Barack’s work as a community organizer sparked an interest in politics. After a stint as

junior Senator, he was ready to inspire the nation. Michelle was initially hesitant about her

husband’s decision to run for the presidency saying, “…I worried about my girls and what a

campaign might do to their lives. I wanted the best possible life for them, and a presidential

campaign was not part of the equation.”

        Like Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama’s clothing and appearance changed over the course

of the campaign. At the start of the campaign, her clothing reflected a middle class, ordinary

lifestyle. When speaking on behalf of her husband at a campaign event in July 2007, Obama

paired a white spaghetti strap top with a full, black linen skirt. She wore a black tee shirt, black

cropped pants and black flats to a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire a few weeks later. She

accessorized the simple ensemble with a tan snakeskin belt around her waist.

        For the First Lady’s Conference on Women in October 2007, Obama stood out in a short

sleeve hounds tooth dress with black pumps. She was the only Presidential candidate’s spouse to

not wear a skirt or pant suit. In December 2007, she wore a black and gray patterned blazer over

a black turtleneck dress with a studded belt to another rally for her husband in New Hampshire.

From June 2007 to January 2008, Obama’s clothing was mostly black, white or gray. However,

on Super Tuesday in February 2008, she wowed supporters with a red dress and jacket paired

with pearls and simple earrings. She appeared confident and happy alongside her husband. After

Super Tuesday, Obama began wearing more dresses and exotic colors. Obama donned one of her


43
  “Michelle Obama.” Biography.com 2009. A&E Television. 17 Apr. 2009. < http://www.biography.com/featured-
biography/michelle-obama/index.jsp>.
                                                                                                            25

most memorable dresses in June 2008 for an appearance on The View. She revealed that she had

purchased the one hundred and forty eight dollar Donna Ricco design at White House/Black

Market and it sold out across the country in less than a week. 44 On the night of her husband’s

acceptance of the Democratic nomination, she showcased her effortless style in a sleeveless

purple sheath with a black belt. Maria Pinto, a Chicago based designer and Obama’s personal

favorite, designed the dress. 45 Obama listed Narcisco Rodriguez, Isabel Toledo and J. Crew as

some of her other top choices.

        When delivering her heartfelt speech at the Democratic National Convention in August

2008, she was even more radiant in a teal, long sleeve dress with an open neckline by Maria

Pinto. The color beautifully complemented her skin tone and she added her signature black heels

to complete the look. Pantone, a company best known for its development and marketing

communications in color, created Colorscopes, a listing of colors and their meanings. It states

that teal reflects one who is neat and self assured. 46 Critics were skeptical of the black and red

Narcisco Rodriguez dress she wore on election night. Some questioned why she would add a

cardigan to that type of dress and others debated whether or not the dress overly accentuated her

curves. 47

        Obama began the campaign with a short flip hair style. She would occasionally add a

headband when she did not wear a bang. As her hair grew, she added layers for a fuller look. By

election night, her hair had grown into a bob that reached her shoulders. Obama’s minimal


44
   Celizic, Mike. “Michelle Obama makes $148 dress a smash.” MSNBC 2009. MSNBC Interactive. 22 Apr. 2009.
<http://rss.msnbc.msn.com/id/25280708/> .
45
   Callahan, Maureen. “Fashion First: Cindy, Michelle break dowdy First Lady Mold.” New York Post. 5 June 2008.
17 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nypost.com/seven/06052008/entertainment/fashion/fashion_first_114025.htm>.
46
   Solomon, Michael R. and Nancy J. Rabolt. Consumer behavior in fashion. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2004.
47
   Snead, Elizabeth. “ Who designed Michelle Obama’s dress for election night?” [Weblog entry.] The Dish Rag.
Los Angeles Times. 5 Nov. 2008. (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedishrag/2008/11/who-designed-mi.html). 17
Apr. 2009.
                                                                                                                  26

accessories included watches, pearls and black belts. Because of her nearly six foot stature,

Obama mostly wore very low heels and flats possibly to avoid towering over her husband.

Vanity Fair noticed her simple, yet chic style and placed her at the top of their 2008 International

Best Dressed List.

         Michelle describes herself as a working class girl that comes from a family accustomed to

hard work. 48 When she was a guest on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, she rejected

claims that she and her husband were elitists. 49 In speeches given during her husband’s

campaign rallies, she explained that her father was a city worker who took care of his family and

put both of his children through Princeton University. She wanted people to know that if she

could come from the Southside of Chicago and potentially become First Lady, then anything was

possible. 50 When asked what the role of First Lady meant to her, Obama stated that it was a big

responsibility and that she wanted to serve as a role model and provide good messages to people

that look up to her. 51

         Fashion insiders define Obama’s style as conservative, elegant and jock-preppy. Raul

Melgoza, creative director at Luca Luca, shared that he would love to dress Obama and admired

her classic sensibility to dressing. 52 Tim Gunn, the style critic from “Project Runway” praised

her for showing her figure and epitomizing American style. This easy, American style of dress

has earned her comparisons to former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Vanity Fair

nicknamed her “commander in sheath” for her affinity to wearing sheath dresses, a common



48
   Michelle Obama: America’s First Lady, More Than Camelot. Bart T. Senior. 2009
49
   “Michelle Obama rejects elitist characterization.” MSNBC. 16 Apr. 2008. Associated Press. 17 April. 2009. <
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24161802/wid/18298287>
50
   Michelle Obama: America’s First Lady, More Than Camelot. Bart T. Senior. 2009
51
   Burt-Murray, Angela. “A mother’s love.” Essence. May 2009: 105-107.
52
   Nichols, Michelle. “Potential U.S. first ladies draw fashion buzz.” The Star Online 7 Sept. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009. <
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/9/8/worldupdates/2008-09-
07T201901Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-353602-2&sec=Worldupdates>.
                                                                                                                  27

staple in Onassis’ wardrobe. 53 Rebecca Taylor, a New York based designer supported the

comparison saying, “Michelle is really fresh and she could sort of go where Jackie O. went given

the right sort of tools and grooming.”

         Obama’s mixture of high end and low end fashion helped her to appear more accessible

than Cindy McCain. Her style of dress made her seem approachable to working moms, ordinary

women and different generations and races. 54 When she wore dresses and accessories that were

affordable for most Americans, she showed that she cared more about the beauty of the clothing

rather than the price tag. She was concerned about what looked good on her body rather than the

status of the brand. 55

         Michelle Obama’s fashion sense was noted because it combined traditional pieces with

modernity. It was obvious that she liked to look nice, though making sure she followed all the

fashion rules was not her top priority. If she appeared too concerned with fashion, she might not

have appealed to as many people or seemed as genuine when she shared her working class

upbringing. She was labeled as bold for wearing off-the-rack items from J. Crew and barely

known incoming designers. Another dimension of Michelle’s wardrobe was her preference for

comfort. She added cardigans and flat shoes to sheath dresses, which some say was not very

“First Lady.” Her shift from the norm communicated that she was wearing the clothes and not

the other way around. 56


53
   Juan. “Michelle Obama named ‘commander in sheath’ on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List.” [Weblog entry.]
Highbrid Nation. 4 Aug. 2008. (http://highbridnation.com/2008/08/04/michelle-obama-named-commander-in-
sheath-on-vanity-fairs-best-dressed-list/). 16 Apr. 2009.
54
   Nichols, Michelle. “Potential U.S. first ladies draw fashion buzz.” The Star Online 7 Sept. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009. <
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/9/8/worldupdates/2008-09-
07T201901Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-353602-2&sec=Worldupdates>.
55
   Trebay, Guy. “U.S. Fashion’s One-Woman Bailout?” New York Times. 8 Jan. 2009. ProQuest. American U
Library, Washington. 14 Apr. 2009. <www.proquest.com>.
56
   Trebay, Guy. “U.S. Fashion’s One-Woman Bailout?” New York Times. 8 Jan. 2009. ProQuest. American U
Library, Washington. 14 Apr. 2009. <www.proquest.com>.
                                                                                              28

       Her choice to occasionally wear less expensive garments was refreshing given the

nation’s economic woes. If Michelle was seen in the three hundred thousand dollar ensemble

worn by Cindy McCain to the Republican Convention, her image would not have matched her

husband’s promise of an economic turnaround. People would have gotten the impression that the

Obama family was more concerned with spending money on clothes than figuring out how to

help American families in need. Moreover, Obama’s fashion choices made her come across as a

strong and sensible woman. She was aware that she always needed to look nice but pleasing and

promoting high end designers was not her first priority.

       In short, Obama’s dress promoted individuality, independence and authenticity. Her

clothing choices conveyed a genuine image, which explains why people rushed to boutiques to

achieve the same looks. Simply put, American women admired her view of fashion and wanted

to be and look just like her.
                                                                                                                  29

                                                  Sarah Palin

        During the summer of 2008, Sarah Palin took the world of politics by storm. Americans

had never seen such an interesting and attention-grabbing Vice Presidential candidate. People

teased her rimless glasses and dated aphorisms, but eagerly waited for her next move. Her debate

with fellow Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden was the most watched debate of its kind,

attracting seventy million viewers. 57 Some questioned whether or not Palin’s unintentional

humorous gestures were the reason for the breaking record. Tina Fey’s impersonation of Palin

was perhaps the most memorable mockery of the vice presidential candidate’s accent, awkward

winking and overall folksy persona.

        Sarah Louise Heath was born February 11, 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho to Charles and Sally

Heath. When she was three months old, the family moved to Skagway, Alaska before settling in

Wasilla. Sarah had a very active childhood, participating in sports and beauty pageants. Before

graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she attended

Hawaii Pacific University, North Idaho College, Matanuska-Susitna College and the University

of Hawaii at Hilo. 58 She then moved back to Alaska and worked in Anchorage as a television

sports reporter. 59 In 1988 she married her high school sweetheart, Todd Palin, and the couple

eventually had five children. While her husband dabbled in sports and his family’s commercial

fishing business, Palin became interested in politics. In 1992, she won a seat on the Wasilla City

Council and was elected mayor of Wasilla in 1996. On December 4, 2006, Palin made history

when she became the first woman and youngest governor of Alaska.

57
   Joshi, Mohit. “Palin-Biden debate most watched vice presidential debate ever.” [Weblog entry.] TopNews. Oct.
2008. (http://www.topnews.in/palinbiden-debate-most-watched-vice-presidential-debate-ever-273317). 23 Apr.
2009.
58
   Go, Alison. “Sarah Palin’s extensive college career.” [Weblog entry.] The Paper Trail. U.S. News and World
Report. 5 Sept. 2008. (http://www.usnews.com/blogs/paper-trail/2008/9/5/sarah-palins-extensive-college-
career.html). 28 Apr. 2009.
59
   “Sarah Palin” Biography.com 2008. A&E Television Networks. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.biography.com/featured-biography/sarah-palin/bio2.jsp.>.
                                                                                                              30

        When Senator John McCain received the Republican nomination for the President of the

United States, people were anxious to see who he would select as his running mate. Mouths all

across the country dropped when he chose the governor of Alaska, who happened to be a

woman. Not since George H. W. Bush announced Dan Quayle as his running mate during the

1988 presidential election had a vice presidential candidate garnered such attention. 60 Palin’s

lack of experience made many wonder why she was McCain’s choice. When asked about the war

in Iraq, she replied that she had heard about it on the news, which was startling because of the

fact that she could possibly become president. Her tendency to avoid directly answering

questions caused even more of McCain’s supporters to worry.

        As a vice-presidential candidate, Palin’s appearance had to complement her running

mate. She needed a look that would force people to see her as serious, not boring. At the behest

of image consultants, the Republican National Committee spent one hundred and fifty thousand

dollars on clothing and accessories to polish Palin’s look. 61 They claimed that since the outfits

were worn while campaigning, it was a reasonable addition to the party’s budget.

        For her debut alongside McCain, Palin chose a fitted black skirt suit and red patent

leather peep-toe pumps. She wore an American flag pin on the lapel of her blazer. Like Cindy

McCain, she loved pins and brooches and was often seen with an oversized flag brooch at

campaign events. 62 For one of her appearances at the Republican National Convention, she wore

a beige jacket with a slim, black skirt. When debating Biden in October 2008, she opted for

another black skirt suit. Palin was most frequently seen in skirt suits in black, beige or peach



60
   “Choice of Sarah Palin raises questions about McCain’s judgment.” Vancouver Sun. 4 Sept. 2008. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www2.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=09b15ac9-2e50-49b6-86b3-d0a9731fbf91>.
61
   Barker, Olivia. “How to look like 150, 000 bucks.” USA Today. 23 Oct. 2008. Academic Search Premier
EBSCOhost. American U Library, Washington. 22 Apr. 2009. <http://web.ebscohost.com>.
62
   Givhan, Robin. “Sarah Palin’s unassertive fashion statement.” Washington Post. 28 Sept. 2008. 23 Apr. 2009. <
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/09/26/ST2008092603303.html>.
                                                                                                               31

shades. She deviated from her typical attire in fall 2008 when she wore a pink turtleneck under a

bright, floral jacket while campaigning. Pantone’s Colorscopes describe beige and taupe as

warm, practical and neutral. Not surprisingly, black is characterized as conventional,

conservative and serious. 63 Palin had no choice but to look practical compared to McCain’s wife

and the current First Lady, Laura Bush who both preferred bright colors and high end designers.

        Palin’s clothing did not receive as much attention and scrutiny as her hair, make up and

accessories. Her chestnut brown hair with blonde highlights was often pinned up with bangs that

nearly covered her eyebrows. She would often wear half of it up and half down in a style that

seemed fit for a school teacher. She stood out for wearing glasses in an age of Lasik eye surgery

and contact lenses. When she first joined the campaign, she wore self-described “schoolmarm”

frames that looked extremely archaic. By October 2008, she abandoned her dark frames for a

three hundred and seventy five dollar titanium rimless pair by Kazuo Kawasaki. 64

        Her infamous high heels were from Naughty Monkey, a footwear line designed for

stylish, hip women. Socialite and heiress Paris Hilton was frequently seen wearing Naughty

Monkey shoe wear. Her make-up was normally understated except for her heavy dark lip liner,

which stood out against her peach lipstick. Throughout the campaign, she wore a French white-

tipped manicure on her square shaped nails. According to nail experts, square shaped nails are

harder to break and signify a woman who favors practicality over trend. 65

        When Palin announced that she was a “hockey-mom” and that the only difference

between a hockey mom and a pit bull was lipstick, she wanted people to know that though she


63
   Solomon, Michael R. and Nancy J. Rabolt. Consumer behavior in fashion. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2004.
143.
64
   Brissette Mata, Brenda. “The politics of fashion: Campaign trail puts spotlight on what women wear; whose
fashion sense do you identify with?” Flint Journal. 6 Oct. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.mlive.com/living/flint/index.ssf/2008/10/the_politics_of_fashion_campai.html>.
65
   Snead, Elizabeth. “Sarah Palin: Politics of fashion.” Los Angeles Times. 2009. 21 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/lat-rewind-palin-fashion5-2008sep05-pg,0,6827368.photogallery>.
                                                                                                    32

was a mother of five, she could still be tough and hard working. Her membership in the National

Rifle Association and confession that her favorite past times included hunting, eating moose

hamburgers and riding snowmobiles helped solidify her hockey mom image. 66 She wanted

women everywhere to know that she was just like any other mother. As a staunch Republican,

she was against gay-marriage and abortion. It was important to her that people knew that despite

her rough amusements, she was still very traditional and conservative. Her appearance had to

reflect how she thought of herself and how she wanted others to think of her.

        All in all, her clothing and minimal accessories were unpretentious and unremarkable.

They were not intended to put her at the top of anyone’s “Best Dressed List.” The beige and soft

coral jackets were meant to complement someone else, not command attention or presage

authority. The natural and simple color palette of her campaign wardrobe was definitely

strategic. If elected, her role would be to assist John McCain and take over his responsibilities if

necessary. She needed to show that she would be able to do that. While campaigning and

speaking at events, Palin was often seen with her sleeves rolled up and hair pushed behind her

ears. These small gestures signified that she was serious and ready to work. In a time of

economic uncertainty and war, she did not want to mislead others into thinking that she was

more into fashion and glamour than foreign policy.

        As a self-proclaimed hockey mom, she came across as ordinary and accessible. She

looked like the typical mother of five who pins her hair up when she forgets to get her hair cut.

The glasses made her look serious, though the rimless frame was outdated and was not designed

by Chanel or Dolce &Gabbana. They were meant to be unobtrusive. Most people choose glasses

that frame their face and highlight their features; she did the exact opposite. The genuine hockey

66
  “Sarah Palin” Biography.com 2008. A&E Television Networks. 23 Apr. 2009. <
http://www.biography.com/featured-biography/sarah-palin/bio2.jsp.>.
                                                                                                               33

mom persona was proven effective because women wanted to look like her. Amazon.com

reported a fifty percent increase in sales of Naughty Monkey shoes, the maker of her infamous

red peep-toe pumps. 67 Since the majority of soccer and hockey moms could not afford her nearly

four hundred dollar Kawasaki frames, BleuDame.com sold a very similar pair for fifty dollars. A

representative for the website described the amount of transactions and requests as “pure

mayhem.” 68 A wig salon in Miami Beach saw huge sales of their “Bargain Sarah Palin Wig,”

which retailed for forty six dollars. One cannot determine whether women honestly wanted to

look like her or were purchasing these items for their Halloween costumes. Either way, Palin’s

style was influential.

        Palin’s clothing lacked the sophistication of Michelle Obama’s dresses, the regality of

Cindy McCain’s couture and assertiveness of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. 69 Her apparel was

common; black skirts and beige blouses could be purchased anywhere from Sears to Neiman

Marcus. Besides being common, her slim skirts and peep toes heels were feminine and sexy. It

was imperative that she looked stern but not masculine. Pantsuits might have suggested that she

was on the same level as her running mate. The femininity shown through the skirt suits gave

voters the impression that she was demure but could take over for McCain if she had to. Despite

her fashion sense or lack thereof, Palin’s appearance ultimately was fitting and appropriate.




67
   Brissette Mata, Brenda. “The politics of fashion: Campaign trail puts spotlight on what women wear; whose
fashion sense do you identify with?” Flint Journal. 6 Oct. 2008. 17 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.mlive.com/living/flint/index.ssf/2008/10/the_politics_of_fashion_campai.html>.
68
   “Palpably Palin.” Brandweek. 3 Nov. 2008. EBSCOhost. American U Library, Washington. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://web.ebscohost.com>.
69
   Givhan, Robin. “Sarah Palin’s unassertive fashion statement.” Washington Post. 28 Sept. 2008. 23 Apr. 2009. <
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/09/26/ST2008092603303.html>.
                                                                                               34

                                                Hillary Clinton

        When Hillary Clinton announced that she would be running for President of the United

States, many Americans were overwhelmed with excitement. As her campaign gained

momentum and number of supporters grew, it seemed plausible that Clinton could make history

and become the nation’s first female president.

        Hillary Diane Rodham was born October 26, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of

Dorothy and Hugh Rodham. Hillary was raised in Park Ridge, Illinois and was active in sports

and her church as a child. 70 In high school, she was a member of the National Honor Society

and served as a student leader. Upon graduating from high school, she entered Wellesley

College, where she took interest in student government and was elected senior class president. 71

Three months later, she enrolled in Yale Law School and soon met fellow student, Bill Clinton.

The pair began dating and the two were inseparable, working together on political campaigns

and campus events. 72 She graduated with honors in 1973 and became a member of the

presidential impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate scandal. She then began working

alongside her boyfriend, Bill Clinton, at the University of Arkansas Law School.

        The couple married in fall 1975 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Bill worked as Attorney

General before becoming governor of Arkansas in 1978. After several successful terms as

governor, Bill launched his presidential campaign and was elected President of the United States

in 1993. As First Lady, Hillary worked to increase health insurance coverage and help




70
   “Biography of Hillary Clinton.” First Ladies. 2009. The White House. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first_ladies/hillaryclinton/>.
71
   “Hillary Clinton” Biography.com 2009. A&E Television Networks. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9251306>.
72
   “Biography of Hillary Clinton.” First Ladies. 2009. The White House. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first_ladies/hillaryclinton/>.
                                                                                                             35

impoverished children and families. Because of her passion for healthcare, her husband

appointed her chairperson of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform.

        At the end of her husband’s second term as president, Hillary decided that she once again

wanted to enter government. In 2001 she made history as the first wife of a president to seek and

win national office and the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate from New

York. 73 After two terms, she set her sights on the presidency. Hillary announced her presidential

bid in January 2007. People now began to see a different side of Hillary Clinton.

        For eight years, Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of the United States. Her wardrobe

was traditional and matronly; filled with high neck dresses and long hemmed skirts. Because of

her former role, she needed to make a distinction in her appearance. It was important for people

to view her as a potential president.

        Clinton wore pantsuits to every rally and event during her 2008 Presidential campaign.

She had pantsuits in every color from bright pink to navy blue. She would often mix and match

her suits, pairing a bright blazer with dark pants. The hosts of the Fox& Friends morning show

joked that she had a pantsuit schedule and designated color for each day of the week. 74 Susanna

Chung Forest, a Beverly Hills based designer, created many of Clinton’s signature pantsuits.

Forest’s clientele mainly consists of socialites and prominent female business executives. 75

        Clinton wore black, white or striped buttoned blouses underneath her jackets. The solid

colored pantsuits were devoid of decoration with simple buttons and zippers. She accessorized

her pantsuits with pearl or gold earrings and necklaces. During a July 2007 appearance on C-



73
   “Hillary Clinton” Biography.com 2009. A&E Television Networks. 23 Apr. 2009.
<http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9251306>.
74
   Edwards, David and Muriel Kane. “Fox & Friends reports on Clinton’s pantsuits.” The Raw Story. 25 Feb. 2008.
23 Apr. 2009. <http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Fox__Friends_reports_on_Hillarys_0225.html>.
75
   Daswani, Kavita. “The pantsuits that got Hillary Clinton’s vote.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Sept. 2008. 27 Apr.
2009. < http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/21/image/ig-pantsuits21>.
                                                                                                                     36

SPAN, she wore a v-shaped neckline that slightly revealed her cleavage. Though unintentional,

the revealing of the top of her chest was surprising as people had never seen her wear that type of

neckline. Her clothing was typically stately and she was known for altering clothing she felt was

too revealing. 76 During the campaign, Clinton sported a short, simple hair cut with layers.

Bloggers and political advisors suggested that the style was a requisite for aspiring female

lawyers and politicians. 77 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore a very similar hair style.

Clinton was well aware of the attention her hair received. When a supporter complimented her

hair cut during a fundraising event in New Hampshire, Clinton responded, “There is so much

fascination with my hair that I told Bill when he was president that if he wanted to get some

international incident off the front page I would change it.” 78

         Less than a month into her campaign, Clinton made it clear that she would directly appeal

to female voters. 79 This was necessary because many of the reforms she pushed for, such as

healthcare and education were concerns for women. She posted, “I’m in and I’m in to win” on

her campaign website, signaling that she was prepared for the tough campaign that was ahead of

her. 80 Though she wanted to project a strong and capable image, she was faced with a dilemma.

Because there has never been a female president, she needed to show that she was just as smart

as any man. Clinton needed to prove that she could be tough when it came to handling foreign

policy issues and war. It was imperative that she get men to vote for her too in order to win the

presidency. For this reason, she could not appear too feminine. Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue

76
   Givhan, Robin. “Hillary Clinton’s tentative dip into new neckline territory.” Washington Post. 20 July 2007. 23
Apr. 2009. < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/19/AR2007071902668.html>.
77
   Marhee, Joseph. “The Hillary Clinton haircut” [Weblog entry.] The Obviously Reputable Post. 27 Mar. 2008.
(http://josephmarhee.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/the-hillary-clinton-haircut/). 23 Apr. 2009.
78
   Pindell, James. “Hillary and her hair.” [Weblog entry] Primary Source. The Boston Globe. 30 Mar. 2007.
(http://www.boston.com/news/local/politics/primarysource/2007/03/hillary_and_her.html). 22 Apr. 2007.
79
   Feldman, Linda. “Hillary Clinton targets women’s vote.” The Christian Science Monitor. 1 Feb. 2007. 23 Apr.
2009. <http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0201/p01S04-uspo.html. >.
80
   Balz, Dan. “Hillary Clinton opens presidential bid.” Washington Post. 21 Jan. 2007. 23 April 2009.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/20/AR2007012000426.html>.
                                                                                                               37

magazine, criticized Clinton for backing out of a photo shoot at the last minute for fear that she

would look too feminine. 81 However, if she completely embraced a masculine look she would

risk alienating her female supporters. If her appearance was not at all feminine, women would

have a harder time relating to her. Her greatest challenge was erasing the First Lady image and

replacing it with an image of a female president.

        Clinton’s attachment to pantsuits and refusal to wear skirts or dresses during her

campaign was not only defiant, but liberal. The pantsuits gave the impression that she was

announcing her gender and defying society’s dress codes. Her goal was to show that she did not

have to wear a skirt to be viewed as a woman. She made it clear that fashion was not the most

important item in her agenda. In the February 2008 issue of US Weekly, she criticized her own

outfits in a four page spread titled “My worst outfits ever!” She gave a quote or short

commentary for over ten of her previous ensembles. The editor of the magazine said that she

pitched the idea to Clinton’s camp and received an immediate yes. 82 Anyone who would agree

to publicly discuss his or her previous fashion mistakes obviously does not care that much about

fashion. Clinton’s attachment to pantsuits made it evident that she was noncommittal and

ambivalent toward style. She wanted to show that she cared more about the issues at stake and

that she was the best candidate to fix them.

        Though Clinton used the pantsuits to reflect her seriousness, the colors that she chose

seemed more appropriate for a picnic or church service. A canary yellow blazer will most

certainly make a woman stand out among a group of men, though not in a good way. After a

Democratic nominee debate with John Edwards and Barack Obama in July 2007, Edwards joked


81
   Moe. “Vogue’s Anna Wintour calls Hillary Clinton a mannish coward.” [Weblog entry.] Jezebel. 18 Jan. 2008.
(http://jezebel.com/346503/vogues-anna-wintour-calls-hillary-clinton-a-mannish-coward). 24 Apr. 2008.
82
   Aspan, Maria. “Hillary Clinton as the fashion police: My polka-dot dress should be arrested.” New York Times.
11 Feb. 2008. 23 Apr. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/11/business.media/11min.html>.
                                                                                                 38

about Clinton’s coral jacket saying, “I’m not sure about that coat.” 83 The two continued back

and forth as Clinton laughed off the joke. Edwards’ remarks were later criticized for being sexist.

        Unlike Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama, Clinton was hoping to be elected to the

presidency. Her intellect and appearance were both under scrutiny. Though Sarah Palin was

running for office, her clothing choices and appearance were analyzed differently because she

was meant to complement John McCain. It was possible that she could become president though

not planned. Clinton faced the hardest challenge because she had numerous images to project

with her appearance. She had to seem like a viable candidate, feminine to appeal to her female

supporters and somewhat masculine to be taken seriously and blend in with the other candidates.

Simply put, she had to noticeably change her image.




83
  Marcus, Ruth. “Pretty Formidable in Pink.” Washington Post. 25 July 2007. 23 Apr. 2009.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/24/AR2007072401853.html>.
                                                                                                       39

                                                Analysis

        The First Lady of the United States is almost as highly influential as her husband.

Everything from the height of her shoe heel to the color of her hair is noted and discussed.

Women often imitate the appearance of the First Lady to mirror her image and seem equally

stately and poised. Before women flooded White House/Black Market boutiques to purchase

Michelle Obama’s dress, Mamie Eisenhower influenced women to wear bangs and Barbara Bush

made gray hair chic. 84 A potential First Lady must have qualities in her appearance that women

will actually want to copy. Obama and McCain both succeeded in making other women want to

look like them, though to different extents. The emphasis on their clothing and appearance was

expected given their potential roles.

        Though presidential candidates share stories of their childhood and early life, they often

do not reveal much about their family life besides the obvious. They do not discuss the day to

day details of their personal lives. The way that the First Lady carries herself or appears can offer

voters insight on what the president and his family are like. If she is well put together and always

appropriately dressed for the occasion, it hints that her husband has similar qualities. Conversely,

if her dress is sloppy, careless or consistently badly chosen, people will attach these

characteristics to her husband. The coverage of what Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama were

wearing gave voters an impression of what their families were like and how their husbands

would fare as president.

        Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton faced a different challenge when dealing with fashion

because they were running for office. They were both representing themselves but needed to

84
  Trebay, Guy. “U.S. Fashion’s One-Woman Bailout?” New York Times. 8 Jan. 2009. ProQuest. American U
Library, Washington. 14 Apr. 2009. <www.proquest.com>.
                                                                                                     40

appear consistent with their party and stance. Both had to find the balance between sexiness and

femininity. If Palin and Clinton were too fashion conscious, it would suggest that they were not

serious enough for their potential positions. On the other hand, if their appearance lacked

modernity overall, they would have been viewed as boring or out of touch. Someone with an

outdated appearance might not be up to date with other aspects of their life. Moreover an

outdated appearance can suggest that one’s reasoning and logic is also obsolete. It was

imperative that the dress of Clinton and Palin reflect that they were somewhat contemporary.

During the 2008 Presidential election, Americans sought a candidate that could help them move

forward, not look as if they were stuck in the past.

       The fashion industry is suited for and dominated by women. Though there are a bevy of

male designers and menswear collections; historically, fashion has been tied to women. A

woman has many more clothing options than a man does. She can wear a skirt, pants, or a dress

in a professional setting and still look appropriate. A man is limited to a suit and tie. Because

women have many more options and accessories to choose from, there is more for people to

judge and scrutinize. Fashion critics are limited in what they can say about a man’s attire. For

this reason, more attention was placed on the four prominent women of the 2008 Presidential

campaign as there was more to criticize and assess.

       From a communications standpoint, fashion is a persuasive form of nonverbal

communication. One’s dress must reflect his or her wished-for persona. A woman that wants

people to think of her as intelligent and bright, would not wear clothing that is too revealing or

too tight as society does not associate intellect with raunchiness. Therefore, fashion is similar to

a costume in that it allows people to alter their appearance, thereby altering others perception of

them. The clothing and adornment worn by these women shaped how Americans thought of
                                                                                                  41

them. The fashion choices worn by these four women were not solely based on their preference.

Each strategically used fashion to present an identity. All of them attempted to dress in a way

that suited their potential roles. McCain’s fashion sense was reminiscent of former Republican

First Lady Nancy Reagan. Obama’s mixture of high and low end designs presented a sensibility

that matched perfectly with her husband’s promise of economic stability. Palin’s skirts and high

heels were best for a female vice presidential candidate. They showed that she was aware that

she needed to complement her running mate and not compete with him for power. It had to be

clear that he would actually be in charge. Her glasses gave the impression that though she was a

woman; she was intelligent enough to take over as president if she needed to. Clinton’s pantsuits

helped erase her former First Lady image and look as tough and qualified as her male opponents.

       Because society relies more on appearance than substance to make decisions and

judgments, the best way to assume a position of great influence or power is to look like one

belongs there.
                                                                                                  42

                                            Conclusion

       One’s dress plays a significant role in how others will identify and characterize him or

her. A person’s clothing and accessories can indicate gender and social status. Self image is also

reflected in one’s appearance, as people who think highly of themselves dress differently than

people who do not.

       Fashion heavily impacted how Americans perceived the four prominent women of the

2008 Presidential campaign. The appearance of Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin

and Hillary Clinton helped citizens make judgments of them or the spouses. This paper

addressed the role of fashion in the campaign and how it was strategically used. Though each of

these women approached fashion from a different angle, they all sought to display self-assurance

in the way that they dressed. This study proved that in the world of politics, image is everything.
                                                                                                43

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