Last Month: WaPo Fashion Editor Declared Palin's Wardrobe Had "Nothing To Do With Fashion" (Another Reason To Stop Listening To Critics)

If there's one thing about this presidential cycle that so excites me so much is just how much more irrelevant the traditional media has become.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

If you want another prime example of why we should stop relying on (or even listening to) the opinion of critics -- be they political pundits, movie critics, or fashion editors -- allow me to highlight last month's widely-read fashion assessment of Sarah Palin's (R) wardrobe by Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan.

Ms. Givhan's piece -- titled Sarah Palin's Unassertive Fashion Statement -- was published on Page M1 in the Sunday, September 28, 2008 edition of the Post -- well after Palin went on her $150,000 shopping spree at Barney's New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale's. It was follow-up with an online chat with Ms. Givhan the following day.

Here's how Givhan's piece began:

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's style is exceptionally ordinary. Nothing about it connotes authority. No detail announces that she is in charge. And that's what makes it so powerful.

The rimless glasses that dominate her face are as banal as modern spectacles come. The entire goal of their design is to have them go unnoticed. They are not meant to frame her features as much as they are crafted to avoid detracting from her big brown eyes.

Her clothes are unpretentious, but they are also unremarkable. They have nothing to do with Fashion. It's fashion show season now, with designers unveiling their spring 2009 collections in New York, Milan and soon Paris. So far, none of them have suggested that the next new thing for the power-wielding woman is a straight black skirt with a boxy, oyster-colored blazer, which is what Palin wore when she accepted the vice-presidential nomination in St. Paul, Minn.

In the narrow confines of political style, the accepted rule is to dress in a manner that implies empathy for one's constituency -- so don't wear anything too expensive -- but also conveys authority. Palin has embraced the former and utterly ignored the latter. Nothing about her style jibes with the image of power. She does not dress like a boss lady, an Iron Lady or the devil who wore Prada.

Her clothes don't have the aura of sophistication like that of Michelle Obama's sheaths and pearls. They do not have a patina of glamour like Cindy McCain's heiress wardrobe. And they do not announce themselves with the confidence, assertiveness and listen-to-me-ness of Sen. Hillary Clinton's bold pantsuits. Palin's clothes are common. Everyone knows someone who dresses like her, which is partly why so many folks seem to think that they know her.

Incredible? Indeed. But there's more:

The ruby slippers she wore on the campaign trail, the ones she paired with the black jacket and skirt that pulled just so across her hips, churn up images of another small-town girl who'd suddenly landed in Oz. A peep-toe pump is coy -- coquettish even. But not an emblem of gravitas.

And how did Ms. Givhan follow-up her completely off-the-mark piece the next day during her online chat?

Robin Givhan: I think one of the reasons that a lot of high-profile women of Palin's ilk choose not to wear well-known designer labels is precisely for that reason. They don't want their clothing -- and its cost - to be easily identified. They don't want that to be a distraction.

So yes, it's difficult to eyeball a jacket from a distance and distinguish whether it is Ann Taylor or Banana Republic.


Robin Givhan: I wouldn't go so far as to say that her clothes reflect world views. But I do think they reflect the fact that she is not influenced by the sort of sleek, urban sensibility that informs the style of someone like Nancy Pelosi.

Yes, these declarations of Palin's fashion simplicity -- with Givhan even wondering whether her clothes came from "Ann Taylor or Banana Republic" -- came several weeks after Palin draped herself in tens of thousands of dollars worth of garments from the very high-end stores that she attributed to people like Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Why is this relevant?

Simple. I think Americans have grown tired of the self-described critics tell us the way the world works when they don't seem a have a clue themselves. Recall how many bloviating pundits on CNN and MSNBC and Fox told us that John McCain or Sarah Palin had won one of this year's presidential debates, only later learning how much their opinion went so strongly against their sage words and vaunted political experience by people who peddle themselves with such self-praise as "the best political team on television." And let's not get started about these same wise sages' assessments of the presidential chances of Messrs. Obama and McCain just a year ago.

If there's one thing about this presidential cycle that so excites me so much -- beyond the feeling that real change is coming to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- is just how much more irrelevant the traditional media has become in providing us an accurate and honest understanding of what is happening, what it means, and which direction the public seems to be headed.

Ms. Givhan is just another symptom of the cancer that has metastasized within the traditional media, an institution that American once admired, respected, and relied-upon for real information. But the funny thing is that I find myself trusting the opinions of the American people much more than the critics who try to tell us how things really are. I suspect that sentiment will only grow on November 4th.

Lord save us.

Mark Nickolas is the Managing Editor of Political Base, and this story was from his original post, "Last Month: WaPo Fashion Editor Declared Palin's Wardrobe Had "Nothing To Do With Fashion""

Popular in the Community