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The fashion of politics: From holy to heinous

| Wednesday, March 6, 2019

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”  — Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel

Holy: Melania Trump

If I were to ever see the Virgin Mary in person, I imagine she would look something like Melania Trump on the day of her husband’s inauguration. I didn’t sleep for three days thinking about that powder blue Ralph Lauren dress. With matching pumps and a cropped, funnel-collar coat, Mrs. Trump was an absolute vision. I don’t say this lightly: She has dethroned Jackie O as America’s most fashionable First Lady.

Mrs. Trump’s most admirable fashion quality is that she always looks stunning. My hand to Mariah, I have never seen the First Lady don an outfit that I didn’t like. Even in her fashion “blunders,” like wearing a Zara jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” embroidered on the back on a trip to visit detained children, the First Lady still looks positively captivating. From the ethereal white gown she wore to the 2017 White House Christmas decoration unveiling to her breathtaking official portrait, Mrs. Trump has continued to serve looks during her tenure as First Lady.

For the fashion world, it was particularly fitting that Mrs. Trump replaced Mrs. Obama as First Lady. It was like replacing a knock-off gemstone with a Tiffany diamond.

Heinous: Michelle Obama

Fashion is Mrs. Obama’s best opportunity to pretend that she has a robust sense of political individuality. She rarely pushes boundaries or generates novel ideas in her focus group-approved speeches and well-rehearsed diatribes. “I don’t have anything of substance to say, but check out these #girlboss boots, ladies,” Obama seems to say with her style. As Michelle herself told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, “Style helps distinguish you.” As a woman who chooses her political positions based on survey data, the former First Lady could use a little distinguishing. Fortunately for her, I think she is right — style is a distinguishing agent. Unfortunately for her, Mrs. Obama has no style.

On the final stop of her highly publicized book tour, Michelle Obama tried to put her best foot forward (literally) in a pair of $4,000 Balenciaga boots (she’s really salt of the Earth). The thigh-high, covered-in-glitter boots were paired with an equally disappointing silk dress, also designed by Balenciaga. Mrs. Obama accomplished the impossible by making a pair of $4,000 boots look cheap, busy, tacky and borderline-theatrical. The boots looked like something a Diana Ross impersonator would fish out of a bargain bin the day after Halloween. It probably didn’t help that the former First Lady was sitting across from the always-stunning Sarah Jessica Parker. Michelle Obama never ceases to find new ways to disappoint me. She’s one stiletto scandal away from losing the gay vote.

Unfortunately, the blind loyalty of Democrats becomes quite literal in assessing Mrs. Obama’s fashion decisions. She could have walked onto the stage wearing the human skin suit from “Silence of the Lambs,” and the girls from Teen Vogue would have gone crazy anyway. I find it difficult to muster pity for the former First Lady because she’s a naturally beautiful woman. With famously toned arms and prominent facial bone structure, it doesn’t take much for Mrs. Obama to look stunning. In fact, when she lets other people dress her, she can come up with some great looks; her first official portrait as First Lady (thank you, Michael Kors) and her second inauguration outfit were both exquisite ensembles. Perhaps Mrs. Obama should consider outsourcing her fashion decisions instead of her policy positions.

Holy: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ginsburg is a woman with a well-defined sense of personal style. The key to Ginsburg’s consistently impressive outfits is subtlety. Instead of opting for something wildly ostentatious, like thigh-high, glittery Balenciaga boots, Ginsburg expresses her graceful sense of style through sophisticated statement pieces — brightly colored gloves, a patterned jacket, a hair bow, etc. Instead of appearing desperately fashion-forward, Justice Ginsburg looks elegant, refined and timeless. I deeply admire her ability to maintain a wardrobe that soars above the lackluster offerings of her peers but avoids the common pitfalls encountered by public figures attempting to make a statement. Ginsburg’s classic taste and attention to detail allow her outfits to be remembered rather than merely noticed.

Ginsburg’s greatest contributions through fashion have arguably occurred in the courtroom. Prior to Ginsburg’s ascension to the high court, Justice O’Connor — the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice — established the precedent of feminizing her plain black judicial robes with a simple, white lace jabot. O’Connor did not want the public to think she had to sacrifice her femininity in order to effectively serve on the Court. Therefore, she thought it would be appropriate to add a feminine element of style to her robe. Justice Ginsburg has expanded upon the precedent Justice O’Connor established, amassing an impressive and diverse collection of judicial collars (including a dark, jeweled jabot that she reserves for delivering her dissenting opinions). I am saddened that Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan seem disinterested in continuing this tradition.

Heinous: Hillary Clinton

Pantsuits are finally popular, and Hillary still looks quirky and outdated. Enough said.

Honorable Mentions:

Heinous: Trey Gowdy

Holy: William Rehnquist (We stan his iconic gold-striped robe.)

Heinous: Newt Gingrich

Holy: Barack Obama

Heinous: Bernie Sanders

Holy: Ann Coulter

Heinous: Sarah Huckabee-Sanders

Holy: John Boehner

Heinous: Monica Lewinsky

Holy: George Stephanopoulos

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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