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What, exactly, does one wear to run for office?
It has to be professional — but not too boring! — and flattering —but not overly feminine! ― and the list goes on. Women running for public office must comply with many nonsensical, stereotypical gender constraints that distract us from that fact women are more than capable of holding public office no matter what they’re wearing.
Finding budget-friendly fashion that checks all of those boxes isn’t easy, especially if you’re campaigning for the first time.
M.M.LaFleur and Universal Standard have both announced that they will loan professional clothing to women running for office in an effort to help relieve some of the stress that comes from finding appropriate clothes to wear during a campaign.
Any woman ― whether they’re running a campaign for the House of Representatives or local town council ― can email email@example.com to be matched with a stylist and borrow up to three pieces of clothing. Once they’re finished using the clothes, the items will be donated to Bottomless Closet, a nonprofit that helps disadvantage women find jobs.
The idea for the campaign came after the 2016 election, when M.M.LaFleur emailed customers asking for their input on how the brand could better support women, according to a press release. After receiving more than 1,000 emails in less than two days, the brand decided it could do more to support women running for office.
Supporting women running for office is bigger than just clothes, but it’s one way the brand can help candidates who might not have access to the kind of clothes required for politicians, said the brand’s founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur in an email to HuffPost.
“Not only do female candidates have to focus on finding an outfit that projects a certain level of power to compete with their male competitors, but they also have to worry about comfort (i.e. shoe choice) and conservatism (i.e. length of dress or skirt; is sleeveless okay?),” LaFleur said.
LaFleur was excited to have the support of a woman like Clinton who’s broken so many glass ceiling in American politics.
“To have the support of someone like her, who intimately understands the joys and pains of running for public office, means the world to us,” LaFleur said.
Size-inclusive clothing brand Universal Standard took inspiration from M.M.LaFleur, pledging to offer the same styling help to women and nonbinary people. The company offers sizes 00 to 40 and features models of all races, ages and abilities in their advertising.
“Our reason for being as a company is to make many more of us feel seen and be heard,” Universal Standard co-founder and chief creative officer Alexandra Waldman wrote in an email to HuffPost. “We hope that this particular effort might help new faces usher in a modern perspective and balanced representation.”
“Our reason for being as a company is to make many more of us feel seen and be heard.”
Universal Standard has so far received styling requests from around 50 people, and it expects even more after Clinton’s tweet.
“Of course seeing Hillary Clinton mention the initiative that M.M. LaFleur started, and Universal Standard joined, was very exciting to see,” Waldman said.
Perhaps even more fashion brands will jump on board and offer support to diverse candidates, especially as the double standards around women’s appearance becomes a regular topic of conversation.
Just this week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was singled out for wearing a $580 Rickie Freeman dress on the “The View.” Conservative leaders and media outlets have frequently targeted Ocasio-Cortez, and specifically have said her spending on clothing and hair maintenance is in conflict with her democratic socialist views.
Ocasio-Cortez was quick to correct critics, saying she typically thrifts and borrows her clothes from services like Rent The Runway.
* Editor’s Note: This article was edited to include quotes from M.M.LaFleur.