Palin Dressed Down
Melinda Henneberger and Nina Shen Rastogi take your questions about the candidate's expensive wardrobe.
"XX Factor" bloggers Melinda Henneberger and Nina Shen Rastogi were online on Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about Sarah Palin's pricey wardrobe, her style, and just how much clothing $150,000 can buy. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
Washington: Good morning, I am an Obama supporter and I initially thought the choice for the Republican National Committee to purchase clothes for Palin was fine. I felt she should "look the part." However, after further examination, I think what shows a bit of poor judgment was not the fact the clothes were purchased, but where they were purchased. I think Sak's and Neiman make them look a bit hypocritical, after the "elite" statements about Obama—Perhaps Macy's or Ann Taylor would have been better selections. Do you agree the choice of merchant may speak to the voters more than the purchases themselves?
Melinda Henneberger: Exactly. My first reaction, too, was hey, I'm enjoying the fashion show—and if someone handed me a credit card and pointed me towards Neiman's, there's a zero percent chance I'd come back with a few durable things from Target. So I don't blame her for the clothes, but I do blame her for dividing us into elites and non-elites, real America and fake America. And yes, it is hypocritical to talk about "Wasilla Main Street values''—and then favor Escada and Valentino.
Washington: Who cares how much money she used? While I can't imagine spending that much on clothing, I think that's part of the whole scene. Why even bother having these big hooplas of conventions or allow the candidates to fly around in jet planes? It's all a waste of money when you think about it.
Nina Rastogi: I don't think the issue is so much that Sarah Palin spent $150K on clothes—I wouldn't be surprised if Hillary Clinton spent that much on clothes and accessories in a comparable amount of time. I think the issue is that spending that much money at such high-end stores really shows the gulf between Palin's "aw shucks, regular gal" persona—which is really being sold to the public—and the reality behind that persona.
Arlington, Va.: I don't imagine there are a lot of Hockey Moms out there spending $150,000 on clothes, but my guess is that it won't matter one bit to them. She's a "good Christian" and many of the uber-narcissistic voters in the country want someone "just like me" in the White House. This is a two- or three-day story at most, no?
Melinda Henneberger: I'm not so sure, and 24 hours after my first reaction—which was hey, what's wrong with looking good?—I'm starting to see this more like John Edwards' haircut, a very telling disconnect between the candidate's stated agenda and personal priorities.
Washington: Did any of the $150,000 go towards new clothes for Palin's kids? Perhaps a new dress for Piper, or maternity-wear for Bristol? Or a new onesie for Trig?
Nina Rastogi: Apparently some of that clothing budget did go toward clothes for Todd, Trig, Willow, et al.
Washington: It's an obvious election law/campaign finance violation ... when will Department of Justice or the Federal Elections Commission prosecute her? And $150,000 on shopping, $20,000 on flights for her kids to events they weren't invited to, and $20,000 on per diems she didn't earn—who's the out of touch elitist? I know Joe the Plumber can't afford $75,000 at Saks. With all that dough, they didn't hire a political science professor to explain to her what the vice president does?
Melinda Henneberger: I don't know what the legal implications are, but we knew she was "elite'' even before we saw the clothing bill. She hired a Washington lobbyist even as mayor of a town of 5,000; who does that? She has assets of $1.5 million. Which doesn't put her in Cindy McCain territory, but doesn't make her Josephine Sixpack, either. Or Josephine the Plumber.
Washington: Will you be doing a story on how much Michelle Obama spends on clothes? I thought not ... another Post hit job. So much for being a newspaper. Should be The Washington Post, not the Huffington Post. The Post's coverage of this election has sunk to the level of NBC. The Post is supposed to be a newspaper—do both sides.
Melinda Henneberger: A lot has been written about Michelle Obama's clothes, but the difference is that Michelle is not a candidate, and her wardrobe is not being purchased with campaign funds. If it were, you can rest assured that that story would be on Page One of every paper in the country.
Falls Church, Va.: I think Robin Gihvan hit the nail on the head—you can't promote Palin as an aw-shucks hockey mom and then dress her up in such clothes. Would it have killed them to hit J Crew or Ann Taylor?
washingtonpost.com: After a $150,000 Makeover, Sarah Palin Has an Image Problem(Post, Oct. 23)
Melinda Henneberger: Right. I actually think that whoever is dressing her has done an excellent job of buying things that look like they could have come from Talbot's—but didn't. Like the black pencil skirt she wore at the convention, or the white blouses she often wears. But now that we know what they cost, the disconnect is glaring.
Washington: What does it mean to donate the clothes to charity? I presume that doesn't mean giving them to a charity like "Dress for Success"—I can't imagine the clients they serve wearing $5,000 suits to interviews.
Nina Rastogi: As far as I know, the RNC hasn't said how, or to whom, the clothes will be donated. In the original Politico article about Palin's total price tag, spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt just said, "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."
I would love it if they donated the suits to Dress for Success—a beautiful, well-cut outfit certainly does boost your confidence and make you feel more professional, more ready to tackle the world. I'd be thrilled if Dress for Success's clients could feel that way.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: As an ex-finance person who loves fancy suits, how on earth did she spend so much? She's not wearing the most expensive couture. Is something else hidden in the $150,000? Jewelry? Very expensive handbags? A mink coat?
Nina Rastogi: I'm not entirely sure how the $150,000 broke down. Slate sent me on a fake shopping spree yesterday, to see if I could rack up the same amount at Saks Fifth Avenue. I ended up having to buy some very, very expensive jewelry to hit the full amount.
Melinda Henneberger: I dunno; if she really was told to leave every thread of her existing wardrobe back in Alaska, then I guess she needed a LOT of clothes.
Slatecontributor Melinda Henneberg is author of If They Only Listened To Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians To Hear. Slate columnist Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, N.Y.