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The Palin Wardrobe


So now we learn that the RNC shelled out $150,000 for clothing, hair, and make-up for Sarah Palin since her surprise nomination. Scandal! Gotcha! Such hypocrisy! If she wants the Joe Six-pack vote, the “logic” goes, why isn’t she wearing clothes from Target? Huh? While everyone seems to get that Palin had to have an emergency make-over for prime time, this particular number offends — as does the fact that she didn’t pay for it herself.

Was a new wardrobe neccessary? Clearly. Last winter, when she posed for Vogue, Governor Palin wore a big, army green parka, (partly to hide her pregnancy), which looked great — but perhaps not entirely vice presidential. No one wears that sort of thing to, say, National Security Council meetings in D.C. In pre-September pictures, she wears inexpensive, perfectly appropriate but not ready for prime-time black suits, or the kind of outdoor clothing that Alaskans, and others who spend a lot of time in harsh elements, require. Her biggest sartorial luxury seems to have been fancy running shoes, as she told the Wall Street Journal weekend section, just before being nominated.

But then, a few days before Labor Day, lightening hit. The governor of Alaska turned into a vice-presidential candidate, who had to show up in front of the nation for the next 60 days, several times a day, always looking camera-ready, and impeccably turned out. She also had to project that new, somewhat amorphous thing: female power. We, as a nation, have not yet been led by a woman, and we aren’t sure what it looks like. It will, of course, vary from woman to woman, depending on her personal needs and style, but not so much. Can’t be too sexy, too severe, or too casual. For sure it requires perfectly fitted, constructed jackets, with a serious shoulder line, in good quality fabrics. Nowhere are those cheap. Palin had to look at least as good as the women we see on TV all the time. You may not realize it, but you don’t see Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or any of the on-camera female talent at the networks, CNN or Fox in off-the-rack stuff from Macy’s. It is all upscale designer stuff, and at the low end it costs a couple of thousand per outfit. Always. Hair and make-up is done, professionally, any time you see them, at the cost of much time and money. That is the visual standard women at the upper end of politics must meet. Condoleezza Rice, who needed to project power, figured it out. Others have not. If Palin hadn’t bothered with any of it, we would have heard about that too.

Had she been a creature of Washington, Palin would have had closet full of suits, unexciting, perhaps, but appropriate. Had she been a former First Lady running for president, whose husband has raked in $109 million in the last 8 years, she could have called Oscar de la Renta, and and had him come for a fitting. He did well with Hillary’s jewel-toned pantsuits, (at a few grand a pop?). She might already have collected some of those great Gurhan necklaces, which accentuated Hillary’s suits all election season. (Look up for yourself what they cost.) Were she Speaker of the House, and the wealthiest Democratic lawmaker, she could have called Georgio Armani himself — and worn the Pelosi pearls that cost more than the Palin’s house.

Instead, she had zero time and no personal fortune. And she faced the terrible hurdle of being young and attractive — the very sort of woman who most desperately needs wardrobe cues to make her look authoritative. If she had had to pay for it herself, she could not have run. The bill would have been ruinous to a genuinely middle class person. So the GOP did what it had to do in order to put a non-rich woman on a national ticket. Whatever one thinks of the choice — and I am a supporter — it’s nice to see that someone was thinking about the details. The difference between Palin at the announcement in Dayton, and Palin at the convention was a subtle but impressive transformation. Subtle always costs more. As a sometime GOP donor, I begrudge her none of it.

Because I like Sarah Palin, and want her to succeed, I would be really happy to know that, should she find herself back in Alaska for the next four years, (or, for that matter, in D.C.) she chose to spend a little of the money that would otherwise go to her clothing budget on a personal library of conservative classics. Going upmarket intellectually will complete the transformation, and make her truly prime-time ready.


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