Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Subtle sparkle

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero led a panel discussion earlier this week for LGBT Pride Month.

She wore magenta:

This deep, clear, cool color is perfect for Ms. Otero's olive skin tone. But what I like best about this jacket is the very subtle sparkle it has, courtesy of some silver threads woven in to it. They add dimension and sophistication to the look, without crossing the line into evening wear (which is always a risk when you add shine or sparkle).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michele Bachmann is going gray

No sooner do we identify Michele Bachmann's switch to dark suits with white shirts than she blends it together and chooses all-over gray for her announcement of her Presidential run.

Here is a view of her silver shift with matching jacket:

Here we can see the sleeve, turned up to three-quarter length, which is perfectly on-trend this spring:

By Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
This fabric has a little bit of sheen to it, which is only a bit problematic in the bright sunlight here. What's trickier is the continuation of a single color in the whole outfit, especially when it's a light one. It's the core of the problem with Hillary Clinton's pastel pantsuits that got her needled in the press for years. Matching suit pieces in a light color can sometimes make you look a bit like a cartoon character. This particular suit also bears an unfortunate similarity to a recent Bachmann parody in Rolling Stone: Her supporters won't be likely to make this comparison immediately, but others might.

Gray isn't turning up in Bachmann's wardrobe just for this announcement, though. We saw another (more familiar) gray suit in her pre-announcement media appearances as well:

The trouble with gray is less about the semantic implications of it sounding dull, and more to do with it having the potential to be dull. So far, Bachmann has avoided that fate. Although a color that complements your complexion can an extraordinarily effective tool for looking good, medium gray is also considered a "universal" color that looks good on everyone. (Want to know the others? Email me for a color consultation appointment!) But it seems unlikely that she can go on without color forever.

I'm officially declaring a color watch for the Bachmann 2012 campaign.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Too sharp

Rep. Jan Schakowsky recorded a YouTube message on the economy this week. She wore a polka dot blazer:

This is a bold print, and there's nothing wrong with bold prints, but this is the wrong print for this woman. Polka dots can be very sharp and unforgiving, especially in the scale where each dot is about the size of your eye. They are perfectly round, perfectly defined (there are no soft edges on a dot) and in this case, they are the highest possible contrast of black and white. Comparing this print with Rep. Schakowsky's features, the dots don't compliment her. Her hair is softly framing her face, with many variations of color within it. Her eyebrows have soft edges. Her nose and her mouth are comprised of straight lines, not round ones.

It's also interesting to note that this was a planned appearance on camera - she wasn't in the middle of doing something else. So this is my opportunity to remind you that when you plan to go on camera, consider not just what your clothes look like on you, but also how they look in your surroundings. The size and contrast of the dots are in direct competition with the flag right behind her (and the flag wins). The black backdrop just absorbs the rest of it.

This is one instance where I definitely would have recommended a solid, maybe in a steel gray like this:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cut in half

Secretary Hillary Clinton traveled to Tanzania last week. She wore a signature pantsuit, this time in contrasting shades of orange and brown:

The contrasting colors here create a sharp visual line that cuts her body exactly in half. Remember that because we are humans and we bend at the waist, we tend to think of our waist as our "middle" but it isn't. The middle of your body (minus your head) is usually down around the bottom of your hips. Dividing this body exactly in half tends to look clunky. It's much more flattering to alter the proportions a bit, to have a longer section on top or on bottom. For example, look at the lady standing right next to the Secretary in a dark top and print skirt - the skirt portion of her outfit creates a much longer "section" than the top, which looks much more elegant.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Bachmann Formula

Last fall, we here at The Style of Politics began to notice a change in the way Michele Bachmann was dressing. For appearances with the mainstream press or in the House, her style became much more conservative and achromatic. The colorful, more feminine look that had been her signature became reserved for appearances at Tea Party rallies and on Fox News.

The frillier, decorative look that I began to think of as "date night with Fox" survived on cable news well in to 2011.  Here she is in March:

The rosy cheeks and flip hairdo we've known for so long hadn't been seen much in Congress this year, but here they were on conservative cable. Bachmann played well to this particular audience, that places keen emphasis on femininity in women candidates (for an excellent discussion of this, see Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister).

But by May, it was gone. As speculation of a Bachmann presidential run reached the boiling point, her straight hair and gray suit had reach Fox News too:

Look carefully here, and remember what you see: plain suit, three-strand pearl necklace, pearl drop earrings. Got that?

Here it is again in her campaign announcement:

And again in the CNN debate:

It seems Bachmann has found her look.

I'm not sure that she can sustain a no-color wardrobe over an entire campaign, but we see a strategy emerging here. Where Hillary Clinton was mocked for too much color (and too many pants) and Sarah Palin was mocked for spending too much money and wearing labels as famous as she was, this wardrobe seeks to disappear. It may work for now, as long as the candidate inside doesn't disappear with it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to wear a name tag

Political events and business networking events of all stripes make frequent use of name tags. They're useful, reminding us of names of those we've met before and providing a visual as well as an audio cue for new introductions. But sometimes they can be awkward for us to wear.

For example, it looks like a name tag gave Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall a bit of trouble recently:

Here are some tips for Kate (and for you) to help next time go better:
  • If you're already wearing a name tag at an event, take it off before you go on stage. No one can read it up there anyway, and it can end up distracting your audience. Removing it will also help you project more authority.
  • When you're not on stage, you're not too cool for a name tag. If you bothered to come to an event, then you should make it worth your while, as you never know who you'll meet. But new or renewed contacts are much less useful if they can't remember who you are. Wear your name tag, and don't ever relegate it to your waist, your purse or your notebook. 
  • Place your name tag on your right shoulder, high on your chest, just below your collar bone. This will make it easier for people you meet to see it and read it quickly while shaking hands (hence the right side) without breaking eye contact for too long. Stay well above the bust line!
  • Keeping a small binder clip and a large safety pin with you when you go to events will allow you to convert a clip to a pin or a pin to a clip as needed.
  • Check on your name tag periodically throughout the event. A name tag that is sideways, falling off or missing can't be read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Disaster preparedness

The country has been beset by a remarkable number of natural disasters and near-disasters this spring, pulling our elected officials out of their offices and into some harrowing conditions. As you might imagine, in that moment no one can really stop and think too hard about, "What do I wear?"

In wardrobe, as in so many other areas of life, it is for these emergencies that we prepare, well in advance. If your entire stack of casual clothes are, at least, the right colors, a good fit and free from damage, then you can just grab and go - whatever was on the top of the pile will serve you well. Why are you holding on to that shirt with the stain, or the pants that are too short anyway? Cleaning out your closet gives you the tools to be comfortable and prepared when the moment strikes, so you can focus on what's important.

My example for today is Senator Mary Landrieu, surveying flood protections in Baton Rouge:

This shirt fits her well, is a good color for her, and has enough structure (by having a collar) to give it some shape and look put together. If she has a whole drawer full of these, she's in good shape.