Stop Asking Me About Sarah Palin's Wardrobe!
The futility of critiquing political "style."
"She's a good-looking trout." This is how my old dad would have described Sarah Palin, were he alive today. I should point out, lest he be posthumously accused of sexism, that Terry Doonan's pre-feminist sensibility was formed long before it ever occurred to anyone that drawing a dotted line between a fish and a lady might be considered a bit de trop.
It is a shame that I am not able to use this phrase today. Referring to La Palin as "a good-looking trout"—an en passant acknowledgment of her attractive features combined with an outdoorsy, possibly-Alaskan, sport-fishing reference—sums her up so deftly, and more importantly, it would give me something to say when the jillions of journalists call.
Jillions of journalists? During the current midterm frenzy, I am being hounded by hacks and bloggers. They want me to opine about the personal style and general appearance of not just Sarah Palin—she of the Republican-funded, $150,000 tailored wardrobe—but all the politicos.
Ping! A new e-mail: It's the WSJ asking for ruminations "about the personal-style choices of New York gubernatorial candidates Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino and what each man's appearance broadcasts to voters."
I guess I should feel flattered. But I don't. Instead, I feel like a hunted gerbil. I am starting to look a bit like one, too. All moist and diminutive and twitchy and fearful.
Desperate though I am to get my name in the press, these particular calls terrify me. This is because I have no idea how to respond. I have no idea whether Kirsten Gillibrand's blouse choices are helping or hindering her, or whether Spike Maynard's gray flannel suits are hitting the spot. Let's face it, I am a window dresser/fashion commentator: I wouldn't know Kirsten or Spike if they grabbed me by my Thom Browne lapels.
In my defense, there is something really dumb about asking people like moi to play Fashion Police with our politicians. It's definitely a case of looking for STYLE in all the wrong places. Whether male or female, politicians dress so as to be unremarkable. A successful politician must appear to be Prada-oblivious. Any hint of dandyism or vanity or Gucci or Pucci or Fiorucci would indicate a superficial, self-indulgent character, totally unsuited for public office. It follows, therefore, that evaluating all this carefully orchestrated sartorial caution must surely be a colossal, nay impossible, nay time-wasting task. Why comment on frowzy trouts and dreary geezers whose closets are so intentionally un-comment-worthy?
There have been free-world politicians in the past whose drag was totally and wildly noteworthy, two to be precise. The first was Benjamin Disraeli, Britain's first and only Jewish prime minister. He enraged the toffs in the House of Commons by sporting velvet knickers and Shirley Temple ringlets. Mazel tov!
The second, also from the United Kingdom, was a swinging '60s character named Screaming Lord Sutch. His lordship was the founder of England's Official Raving Loony Party. His proto-Alice Cooper look—top-hat, kohl-rimmed eyes, and Regency ruffles—sent shockwaves through the foundation garments of the English middle-classes.
Despite contesting no less than 40 elections, Lord Sutch was never elected, proving my point that flamboyance and politics are mutually exclusive. Leave the Cavalli jumpsuits and Balmain neo-punk to we constituents, and wee constituents and wee gerbil constituents.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)
Photograph of Sarah Palin by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.