American people will elect a new president. Whether you have anticipated the change with unbridled excitement or baleful hostility, the citizenry will vote, and we will effectively seal our fate for the next four years. Aside from the change in political climate — whether we meander left or right — another shift will take place, which is more light-hearted and less emotionally charged: fashion in the executive branch.
American presidential fashion has a great history, whether it references Abraham Lincoln’s exaggerated top hat, the three-piece tweed suiting and watch chain of Theodore Roosevelt or the trim and mod style of John F. Kennedy. But to a greater degree, and almost without exception, the wives who have occupied the White House have long been considered the better halves, at least sartorially. Special consideration has always been given to the clothing of the first lady — even Martha Washington wore a silk taffeta gown painted painstakingly with flowers, butterflies and insects. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, perhaps our most fashionable president’s wife of all time, had a celebrated relationship with designer Oleg Cassini. Nancy Reagan was muse to Oscar de la Renta. The highest office in the land is not only occupied by someone who the people feel they can rely on for policy but also someone who they feel an emotional and aspirational connection to superficially. We feel the way White House occupants dress is an inference to their personalities and their characters.
For the last eight years, Michelle Obama has been the fashion envoy of the United States government, famously shocking people during her husband’s campaign and first years in office, shopping off the rack at mass retailers, J.Crew and White House Black Market.
Over the next several years, she elevated her choice in designer but always stuck to simple, accessible shapes, sporting the sleeveless sheath dress as her signature look. As one of the youngest couples ever to occupy the Oval Office, the Obamas postured themselves as relatable, hip and relevant. Even the young White House staff reflected this sentiment, sporting skinny ties, clunky plastic frame glasses and blunt, ironic haircuts.
As for the election we face, the two candidates will produce two very different aesthetics. Hillary Clinton, who favors pantsuits by high-end European designers like Giorgio Armani and Chanel, nods to the traditional way of dress for a female politician — modest (if not a little dated), traditional, expensive and serious. The Trumps, who are known for being ostentatious in both taste and personality, would feature an entirely different look with the eyes of the style hounds focused almost exclusively on Donald Trump’s Slovenian ex-model wife, Melania. So far, the $2,200, white, bubble-sleeve dress she wore to the Republican National Convention sold out overnight on Net-a-Porter, with the second color selling out the next day.
Since the advent of television, the appearance and dress of candidates, as well as their families, has played a pertinent role in public perception. Coordinating outfits, necktie colors, accessories, facial expressions and body language are all coached, subject to focus groups and polls.
While the constant focus on appearance may seem excessive or even backward given the importance and stature of the job, visual cues are most often our first contact and impression of a given circumstance. While I would like to think that my personal voting choices are informed and thoughtful, if Claire Underwood from Netflix’s House of Cards were on the ticket, I would consider voting for her simply to guarantee access to her razor sharp silhouette, otherworldly beauty and flawless wardrobe choices every day. It may not be as important as tax reform or Second Amendment rights, but it’s a close second.