(NPR) Participants in this year’s Fashion Week, now under way in New York, have to share a bit of the spotlight with a smaller group of trendsetters being closely judged for their own sense of style: women in the political forefront.
In a presidential election season, Americans are not only scrutinizing the candidates for their positions on such issues as the economy. There are also strong opinions forming, among voters and in the blogosphere, about the sense of fashion embraced by the candidates’ wives, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain.
“We’ve always looked at what first ladies-to-be, or first ladies, wear,” says Marjorie Margolies, a former lawmaker who now helps women prepare for leadership roles in politics and advocacy. “It’s just part of the game. Women are viewed in a very different way, with regard to their dress, than men are.”
And as their husbands pursue their respective bids for the presidency, the fashion spotlight is not only beaming down on Obama and McCain.
“In this particular [election] year, you have all these women [at the forefront] who are really interested in fashion,” explains Teri Agins, a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Agins and Margolies acknowledge other players in this election’s political fashion game, such as Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former Democratic presidential candidate and former first lady Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Jill Biden, wife of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden.
When asked if so much focus on the exterior of prominent women in this year’s presidential race hints of sexism, Margolies seems to think so, but defends it as the way of society.
“Women really are the ones who still have the burden of getting up in the morning and putting something on that is, for whatever reason, responsible,” she says.
Fashion Tips For Obama And McCain
As campaigns step up their push to appeal to voters, especially women, Agins and Margolies have some advice for the Illinois and Arizona senators’ wives.
“Wear color,” says Agins, advocating that the women stay away from dark suits. “And [wear clothes with] a good neckline.”
“Bring back the pearls,” says Margolies. But she cautions the wives to stay away from the “bling.” Flashy clothes and accessories could be seen as pretentious, potentially blinding voters from embracing their message.
“Most people remember what you wear and your tone over what you say,” Margolies says.