Glamour magazine September 2008
This really is the election of the 21st century. It has been exhilarating. Just four years ago it seemed impossible to consider that a woman, an African American man and a senior citizen would be vying for the position of Supreme Commander of one of the most influential countries in the world. It may not have been the first time Hillary Clinton had perceived herself as a Commander in Chief, but it was the first time she had tried to convince voters to view her as President of the United States. And perception is everything. Although the Democratic Primaries are over short of the official Democratic Convention formalities, the way in which Hillary is perceived by others and how comfortable she is in conveying her personality and message is still critical. She must continue to distinguish herself to Congress, to the country and to the world as a leader who has dynamism, intelligence, confidence and authenticity.
The public has yet to find out what specific role Hillary will play in helping to revitalize the nation. However, what is obvious is that she has an opportunity for her political passion and policy expertise to be utilized and valued towards the betterment of the United States. But, hey! Will those pantsuits hurt or help her actively convey her message?!!!
The recent passing of acclaimed designer Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), who brought women’s pantsuits to the masses, reminds us of his true intentions behind designer for women. In his own words, Saint Laurent said he believe “…fashion was not only to make women more beautiful but also to reassure them, give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.”
So what seems to be the problem?! Why does Hillary continue to seem self-conscious, dated and physically uncomfortable in her current attire? The head-to-toe monochromatic colors and ill-proportioned silhouette she has fashioned is on the verge of creating almost a caricature to her persona. It can be beneficial to create a signature style but surely a caricature is not what she had in mind. She’s even become a part of Wikipedia’s reference to a pantsuit, “…Hillary Clinton is often mocked on programs such as The Late Show for wearing this type of apparel often”. Ironically, this outdated image she is projecting fails to coincide with her message of ‘experience plus change’.
In On Beauty and Being Just, the philosopher and literary critic, Elaine Scarry, acknowledges that “…beautiful things have a forward momentum, the way they incite desire to bring new things into the world: infants, epics, sonnets, drawings, dances, laws, philosophic dialogues, theological tracts”. She goes further in pointing out that if a person or a thing isn’t aesthetically gratifying, there is even aversion and avoidance.
It makes sense then that when someone presents as visually pleasing, we want to pay more attention to his message. This does not mean that he or she has to be the most handsome or beautiful; what it means is that we perceive that person as confident and fully engaged in her effort to share with us her expertise and talents. Simply put, that is attractive. Our interest is piqued.
Due to vast, incessant international media coverage and immense public interest, Hillary can no longer afford to separate appearance from who she is. The way she presents herself is more important than ever. Especially for the woman who was the first one paving the road to the White House. In setting a precedent, Hillary has a responsibility to consistently convey her expertise and dynamism. A political powerhouse needs to command attention. When someone looks authentically comfortable with herself, she immediately radiates all of those essential leadership characteristics.
What is becoming more and more clear is that in today’s visual world what someone says is not enough to keep our attention. We are visual beings who have a visceral reaction to what we see. Visually, at the moment, Hillary’s personal style communicates status quo: status quo appearance…status quo ideas. The public is asking ‘will what we see extend to…status quo leadership…status quo execution…status quo future?’
This does not mean that Hillary, in communicating “forward” thinking, should have to dress a “part”. There are definitely very simple options that both communicate her forward thinking and make her feel comfortable and confident enough to passionately communicate her ideas.
Whatever misconception is holding Hillary or Hillary’s team back from having her look her message needs to be corrected. Today’s very talented and serious American designers would offer a quite appropriate resource of contemporary classic at a reasonable cost. An Americana chic, if you will, would allow her to represent both her fresh message and fresh American talent to the rest of the nation and even the world sees her in a new light. Michael Kors could certainly provide her with a figure flattering chic pantsuit. Or there is Vera Wang’s expertise in making a woman look femininely empowered for special events. And, of course, there are always Ralph Lauren’s well-groomed casual yet appropriate collections that would be perfect for travel or more informal situations. Another idea that might feel inspiring to Hillary is showcasing Linda Loudermilk’s sustainable apparel, reinforcing her environmental commitments. And it’s a good bet that Taryn Rose could present her with contemporary comfortable footwear that would get Hillary through her challenging ‘on her feet’ days ahead in easy going style. Other notably capable American designers include Proenza Schouler, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Narciso Rodriguez, Brian Reyes, Carmen Marc Valvo, Rodarte, Bradley Bayou, Behnaz Sarafpour, Peter Som, Chaiken, Zac Posen, Bryan Bradley for Tuleh, and of course Donna Karen from New York City.
The selection of gifted American designers is vast and would undoubtedly be able to support Hillary in visually communicating her message and feeling proud, empowered and confident enough to verbally communicate it.
Even after the Democratic Convention where she is schedule to make a noteworthy speech, Hillary will continue to partake in politics and thereby remain in a long and arduous interview process with the American public, the press and the international world at large. Conscientious attention to her appearance becomes a metaphor for pride in being a transcendent progressive Democratic leader and pride in being a leader of women everywhere. No longer is attention to appearance thought of as narcissistic. On the contrary, it is considered a responsibility. Hillary must dress her message of informed change as she speaks it!
Don’t hesitate to comment…feedback from designers as well any impression from voters at large is very valuable. Please no vulgar or off-color language or references.