So, recently I posted the following photo on Facebook. Supposedly it is meant to illustrate the differences in values of the two women, based on the cost of their outfits.
Understandably, a friend's response was, "WTF difference does it make what they were wearing?" And the answer, of course, should be that it shouldn't matter. And I've been thinking about it ever since. What is the obsession with first ladies' (or potential first ladies) styles, and what difference (if any) does it make?
My brief search on First Lady Fashion (FLF from here on out...) reveals a long history of following what they were wearing. Indeed, society columns 'then and now' made a point of describing in detail the clothing of the ladies of the time at various high society events. Yes,the ladies. Men's fashion really doesn't change that much, although these days men on the red carpet at the Academy Awards do get asked, "Who are you wearing tonight?" Still, it remains true that it's what the ladies are wearing that we really pay attention to.
FLF has a place in history...specifically, the National Museum of American History. But why does it matter? From the NMAH site: "Clothing, especially on mannequins, can give a sense of a person’s physical presence. It helps make even the most distant historical figure feel closer. Clothing and accessories illustrate the personal style of a first lady or the official style of a presidential administration. And they can represent the events to which they were worn—from inaugural balls, state dinners, and public appearances to everyday life in the White House." And political conventions.
Right. And you and I both know that a lot of thought goes into the outfits in FLF, for the very reason that the individual wearing the outfit is representing so much. Which brings me back to the above photo and whether or not it really matters what they were wearing. I say yes. And even though I had a difficult time articulating why it matters at the time the photo was circulating, I knew then and I know now, it matters. Because I know that each individual had a strong say in what they wore, who designed it, what colors would be involved, and what statement they wanted to make. In each case, the image presented is a combined result of personal taste and desired reaction.
Whether we like it or not, fashion matters. Fashion represents cultural and fiscal values. "Fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt." (Elsa Schiaparelli) And in politics, like it or not, FLF matters.
To listen to the story that re-sparked my interest in this topic, click here.