Politics & Policy

In Capitol Fashion

Our best-dressed (and not-so-best-dressed) political women

Aside from the hype over what Michelle Obama wore to the president’s inauguration in 2009, fashion and politics aren’t typically mentioned in the same sentence. So I decided to combine my interests in the two topics and take a look at some of the most powerful, best-dressed women in national politics.

Let me start off by saying that my reasons for complimenting or criticizing a subject’s fashion sense will not be affected by my political views. Don’t get me wrong, it will be a difficult task. But I, your humble analyst, will remain a professional.

So let’s begin! I’ve separated my list into equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

Let’s start with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Vogue recently did a photo shoot with the DNC chairwoman, who wore a sampling of $2,000 dresses in the midst of a campaign where she targeted Mitt Romney for his wealth and for being out of touch with “normal everyday Americans.” So, when she’s not posing in Vogue photo shoots, how does Mrs. Schultz rate in the style department (which should be an important part of her day-to-day life, considering she heads the Democratic party)? As Coco Chanel said, “If it doesn’t fit perfectly, it’s a disaster.” I would love the opportunity to do a custom fitting for the congresswoman, and my advice would be for her to wear more silk printed scarves in order to freshen up the dark suits she wears for interviews. I’ll discuss later on, when we get to Leader Pelosi and Secretary Hillary Clinton, how pantsuits can in fact work. Here are images for your reflection.

Let’s move on to another D.C. powerhouse, one who dresses beautifully: America’s Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. Wife of Vice President Joe Biden, Jill has exceptional taste; she embraces her body while understanding how a well-tailored dress can put forth a sexy yet serious silhouette. In her role as second lady, Dr. Biden has brought attention to the sacrifices of our military families and those wounded in combat. She also raises awareness for health issues specific to women, such as breast cancer. If that weren’t enough, she teaches full time at a Virginia college. Her attire must reflect these roles and must not come across as too tricked up, or as if she were dressing for the Paris runways. I think she is a hit in everything she wears. Notice how beautiful her dresses look on her body — how they lay flawlessly and how she looks like a million bucks without even trying. Her confidence brings out the life in the garments, and that is the telltale sign of a woman who absolutely feels comfortable in her own skin. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has often been the target of writers and pundits for her abundance of colorful pantsuits and ill-fitting jackets. I have to say, over the years, things have improved in that department. (I’m not sure how they could have worsened) I’ll begin with the object of much controversy, the column-of-color pantsuit, treading delicately so as not to disrespect the variety of shapes a woman’s body can have. The secretary has chosen many tasteful and elegant options, and I hope she continues to do so going forward; it’s about knowing what works and what does not. Secretary Clinton has stated openly that she isn’t a fan of her hips and legs, so why deliberately choose bright vivid colors in silk or wool pantsuits? Take a look at the images I offer you and see how much better she looks in a colorful jacket paired with black pants, with a silk scarf around her neck tying the look together. She immediately looks half her size. I would also caution the secretary against wearing ultra-textural tweed; it tends to give too much of a 3-D effect to her jacket, adding unnecessary bulk.

Moving from the woman who is fourth in line for president to the woman who used to be second, we focus our attention on Nancy Pelosi, now the House minority leader. Oh, how it pains me to admit I like her choice of suits, considering how strongly I disagree with her politics. She is an example of a woman who recognizes her position in government, and how the right clothes are part of the message she wants to send to those with whom she meets and negotiates. I’ve selected a series of images showing the congresswoman in different settings. They demonstrate that she clearly has a sense of her own style and that dressing one’s age does not mean resorting to a frumpy or dated look.

We now move from politicians to pundits, beginning with someone I consider to be a very talented analyst and a really sleek dresser. As a columnist for the New York Post and the Daily Beast, as well as a Fox News contributor, Kirsten Powers reflects the modern woman, balancing her many tasks and dressing the part meticulously. Kirsten is one of those who dispel the myth that a boring, humdrum dress code is appropriate for a person writing about and discussing the current political climate. From her colorful dresses to her clean and modern silhouettes, she embraces her own style and looks perfectly comfortable in it. Confidence is something one must have when going up against an opposing opinion, and a total package is needed in today’s modern digital world. Calling to mind all the TV appearances of hers that I’ve seen, I can’t remember an occasion where she didn’t come across as chic and in control of her appearance. Note how she wears dresses with light cap sleeves to accentuate her shoulders, effectively beginning the hourglass shape. On one occasion, she threw in a daring purple camisole under a bleach-white suit to minimize the “lawyer look.” And finally, note how she wears a chocolate dress but ensures that it has just the right amount of femininity to it, with the neckline pleats.

I am going to analyze one powerful D.C. woman who, in my humble opinion, hesitates to experiment with clothing styles — and that’s not uncommon, nor is it a bad thing. I am talking about Kathryn Ruemmler, White House counsel to President Obama. Many women don’t see fashion as an expression of who they are, and the latest jacket design and how it is paired with other components of their wardrobe seem unimportant to them. I understand this completely but feel that a person with such an important position, who may be in the presence of the commander-in-chief, should take a few more risks with what she wears. After all, business suits these days can be ultra fem, ultra glam, and extremely beautiful. I would love the opportunity to advise her about what she sees in a wardrobe, what she needs from a wardrobe, and what she feels would help put her best foot forward.

Moving on to the Republicans. According to Rasmussen Reports, Indiana national committeewoman Dee Dee Benkie is “a dynamic political leader” who has a record of success advancing Republican causes “from the White House halls in Washington, D.C. to the Versailles town hall of her heartland home in Southern Indiana.” I always enjoy when women take fashion risks, because isn’t that what fashion is all about? Seeing how things work on the body and how they project to the public? Such a beautiful woman with big blue eyes should be complemented with some spark in her attire. Look how perfectly she wears the pink dress with the square pattern or the royal-blue dress with the pin tucks. That is what I’d like to see more of — more pattern and texture. She absolutely defines her role as a professional woman in her colorful jersey dresses, which have plenty of detail; I would just ease her into the next level of power dressing. Have a look and tell me what you think.

On to a favorite of mine, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, a woman who couldn’t possibly have earned more respect and admiration for everything she has accomplished, from her early years in the pre-civil-rights South to her current role as a professor at Stanford. Her wardrobe is as varied as her résumé, from office suits and shift dresses to evening dresses and ball gowns. I know one of her favorite designers is AKRIS, which is a very upscale line from Switzerland that hand tailors each and every piece that leaves the factory. Ms. Rice is another candidate for my best-dressed list, as I’ve never once seen her looking less than dapper on any occasion, whether for TV or official state business. She also looks good in nearly every color, and she always looks incredibly ladylike. Take a look at the different styles for different occasions, and notice that she nails each one perfectly, right down to accessories or lack thereof. 

From secretary to senator, we direct our attention to the junior senator from New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte. Her background reflects her more serious style: Her role as a no-nonsense attorney general is filtered into her wardrobe picks, from the business suits to the one-color look. All in all, I think it works for her, but as with Dee Dee Benkie, I wouldn’t mind some well-thought-out risk taking. There’s no reason a senator can’t have some flash to go along with her policymaking. Clearly she does have a style that she embraces, and she wears it well. Have a look at the red ruffle jacket, which is both serious and feminine at the same time. The magenta tweed jacket is an absolute attention-getter and is fantastic for the cameras and television. The royal-blue dress could have been a bit more “pow,” but I understand that she is not a celebrity, but a talented senator with a bright future ahead. 

Monica Crowley spends her time writing books, making powerful points on Fox News, and reigning supreme in the fashion department — I’d also like to be a fly on her Thanksgiving table to listen in on her conversation with brother-in-law and liberal talk-show host Alan Colmes. She’s another fine example of someone who’s fabulous at mixing politics and fashion in a sporty-chic way, yet she always keeps the end product sophisticated. I love the clean looks, especially the color choices and silhouettes. I’ve selected three images portraying three completely different types, each defining perfection, from a flirtatious navy silk blouse to an “occasion” panel printed dress, right into a professional “speech” look with tailored trousers and a jacket. As you can see, this conservative warrior always looks smooth and sophisticated.

Up next is perhaps the fiercest warrior on the right, Michelle Malkin. Born in Philadelphia, Michelle first stirred the pot when she wrote a center-right article about affirmative action, paving her way to become an electric firebrand for the conservative movement. It’s this same tone that I love about her wardrobe choices, which exude sportiness and excitement. Her mix of confidence and experimentation is a winning combination. Check out how she is playful in her styles, the colors she selects, the draping vs. sharp tailoring. She never adheres to one set of rules in her style or her commentary, ensuring a riveting presentation, whether it’s in person or on Fox News.

Now on to a woman who has it all: experience in the Justice Department, as an adviser and press secretary to President George W. Bush, and currently as a co-host of The Five on Fox News. A self-described “cheerful conservative,” Dana Perino’s background and current position require her to really know how to adapt her wardrobe to the demands of her day-to-day schedule; and it’s something she has mastered. Whether it’s a speech given to a group of young women just entering the work force, or a keynote address at a Republican political function, Dana has pre-planned her wardrobe selection to a T — accessorizing it flawlessly — and she always ends up being the best-dressed woman in the room. Her style is eclectic, exciting, chic, sharp, and sophisticated, all in the same package, at the same time — something that only a woman with confidence can pull off.

“I don’t wear heels for a fashion statement. I wear them for ammunition.” How amazing is that quote? My next subject, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, is one terrific dresser. Whether she’s appearing on The View in a cute modern tweed patterned jacket or at the Republican convention in a silk wool tailored jacket, Haley looks effortlessly divine and polished — and she seems equally confident in both settings. Vogue included her in a photo shoot wearing a very casual oversize blouse over white jeans, showing that even a super-casual Governor Haley looks every bit the southern belle. I see great things in Mrs. Haley’s political future, and I am already looking forward to her next fashion picks.

So until next time, keep your eyes on these women, and see if my analysis rings true in the coming year. They all have their own preferences in how they dress and how they work their wardrobe around their day-to-day activities. Some are more comfortable than others in their fashion choices, but bravo to each for being wonderfully unique.

— Bradley Scott is a winner of the Fashion Group International Rising Star Award and a New York native. 


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