The Politics Of Fashion: Do Clothes Have A Place In The Conversation?Sadie Stein8/27/08 4:30pmFiled to: Clothes CallsHillary Clintonmichelle obamacaroline kennedyFashionClothesDemocratic National Convention59EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkExtra just posted a poll: "Did Hillary's Orange Pantsuit enhance her speech? The options were: -Yes. She looked like a milion bucks -No. She looked $12 million in debt. -Sigh. Why can't they focus on her, instead of her pantsuits? The fact that they'd include the third option, and yet in addition to the exigesis on the orange pant suit have run no fewer than three stories on Michelle Obama's dress, hair and general style at the DNC pretty much sums up the issue. Seemingly, people can't get enough of DNC fashion, be it Caroline Kennedy's "legacy of style", the fact that both Hillary and Michelle sported beige yesterday or the opinions of Project Runway hosts Tim and Nina.Here on Jez, we've deliberately not done some kind of DNC "fashion roundup," (not least because chronicling the infintessimal variations in these women's outfits seems to be a full-time cottage industry for at least 500 bloggers) which - given the tensions raised by the mere mention of The Pant Suit in comments these past two days - is probably a good thing. To me, it qualifies as neither politics nor fashion and certainly the less interesting end of both. But I do get why people are interested. To the extent clothing eclipses what anyone - woman or man but usually woman - has to say, then, yes, such coverage is insulting to public figure and reader alike. And yes, we are a largely frivolous culture who take unseemly delight in anything silly - especially if it's a more "fun" alternative to boring old things like policies and budgets and wars. However, such interest in outward appearance is not only natural but probably, to a large extent, healthy. First of all, people are interested in the clothing make politicians wear - pundits probably spilled as much ink on Obama's tie, or lack thereof, as on his energy policy - but the fact is that there are very limited variations on the masculine political uniform and risk-taking is simply not an option. It's certainly true that there is an undercurrent of real mean-spiritedness - not to say misogyny - to people's scrutiny of Hillary Clinton's pant suits, but it does seem like in a world where every public statement, expression and reaction is carefully planned, focus-grouped, rehearsed and lacquered into place, it would be very odd if people ignored one of the few visible manifestations of - well, anything - we're allowed in politics. The public is desperately hungry for information and politics are so tightly-controlled that we really get very little to work with; every clue is precious. Then too, I really believe people are eager for leadership, for influence - and while this might be unsettling, it's natural that they should look to something tangible to latch on to, something which, however unwittingly, becomes associated in their minds with a powerful woman. What's more, although it's certainly not the weapon they would choose, women in politics have a tool, however frivolous, that their male counterparts lack: the ability to change their image with a change of clothes (see: Obama, Michelle on The View.) Yeah, it's gonna be scrutinized, but so is everything they do - this is actually one area that can be controlled, and as such confers a measure of power. Michelle Obama might chafe at this reality, but she still harnesses it and kicks sartorial ass. So, in short, chill. Taking an interest in frivolity (unless you're Karl Lagerfeld, who prides himself in not liking anything serious) need not be at the expense of substance - the women in the spotlight seem to have made their peace with this, even if it's rough for the rest of us.