Re: Wardrobegate: The Sarah Palin Chronicles Continue

Hard on the heels of the release of Sarah Palin’s new book, “Going Rogue“, comes this interview with Lisa Kline, the New York stylist who bought a small fortune’s worth of clothes that later became a huge scandal during the 2008 presidential campaign. This article is a pared down version of the full interview Lisa gave to authors Shushannah Walse and Scott Conroy (“Sarah from Alaska: The Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar“).

A number of people who commented on the article wondered why something as “frivolous” as Palin’s vice-presidential wardrobe is worthy of news coverage. That question never arises for us, faithful readers. We already know that clothes are never simply just items made of cloth. They are symbolic of larger issues. In this case, “Wardrobegate” points up problems within the 2008 McCain-Palin Presidential campaign and with Mrs. Palin herself. The continuing news coverage of this particular misstep is both reflective of the public’s interest in reading about and dissecting the historic 2008 campaign and their interest in Sarah Palin’s national political ambitions.

So what specific problems is Wardrobegate symbolic of? Without getting into a detailed political analysis, let’s start with the McCain campaign as a whole and then move down to the candidate.

  • Stylist Kline was hired at the last minute and tasked with putting together a posh wardrobe–first for Sarah and then for the entire Palin family–on a holiday weekend. The get-the-clothes-now-and-expense-be-damned approach reflects the fact that McCain put off selecting his running mate until the 11th hour. While McCain and his advisers had plenty of reasons for dithering, the fact is that announcing Sarah Palin as the vice presidential pick even a month ahead of time would have saved them considerable money and embarassment later on.
  • The chain of authority and accountability was non-existent. No one took responsibility for ordering the new wardrobe or for riding herd on the budget as expenditures ballooned. This bit of mismanagement has to be laid at the feet of John McCain’s leadership style. McCain, by all accounts, preferred a non-hierarchial, improvisational structure for his organization which served him well in the past when he was running a small, underdog, insurgent campaign, but which caused major problems for the larger, more traditional campaign he was running in 2008.
  • No one seemed at all concerned about saving the campaign money. Let me say that again. No one seemed at all concerned about saving the campaign money. This state of affairs is all the more unbelieveable considering how strapped for cash the McCain organization was. Yet again and again staffers thought nothing about picking up clothing items in “high end shops”. Could nobody pick anything up from Target or Fred Meyers?
  • No one seemed at all concerned about how the donors’ money was being spent. If Mrs. Palin had bought a few high end suits and charged it to her own credit card, the kerfluffle might not even have made headlines. Charging the cost to the Republican National Committee made it everybody’s business. Earlier this year, the Federal Election Committee ruled that the McCain campaign did nothing illegal in charging expensive outfits to the RNC. While the campaign’s actions may not be illegal, it defies all common sense to suggest that designer duds for the personal use of the candidate are somehow reasonable expenditures that donors should pay for. As I said in an earlier post, if the Republicans can’t properly manage the money of their own contributors, how can they properly manage the public’s money?
  • No one seemed at all concerned that dressing Sarah Palin in designer clothes would undermine her “Everywoman” image. Sarah Palin was being billed by the GOP as an average, working class hockey mom. It was absolutely critical that her clothes back that up. No one seemed to have understood the hypocrisy inherent in accusing one’s opponents of elitism–as Palin did during and after the campaign–while at the same time wearing expensive suits purchased from dens of elitism like Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • Once the scandal broke, the campaign did not acknowledge their mistake and respond appropriately. The way the campaign handled what became a damaging story about their VP nominee was lame to say the least and again showed the campaign’s inability to stick to a message or deal effectively with problems.

So what does Wardrobegate say about Sarah Palin? As governor, Sarah had the reputation of being something of a fashion plate. Admittedly, in a state as devotedly casual as Alaska, that meant wearing red wedgies to the office instead of dress shoes or sneakers. Even so, her “fashion plate” rep wasn’t considered a liability. It was, after all, her own money and Sarah’s fondness for clothes most Alaskans couldn’t get at their local department store was just another charming idiosyncrasy in a reform-minded woman who was there to shake up the state capital.

The Palin family is often portrayed by Sarah’s supporters as poor. That is simply not the case. While Todd and Sarah started off as working class, by the time Sarah was elected governor, the Palins had managed to achieve a comfortable, upper middle class lifestyle. They had a large, beautiful lakeside house, a private plane (Piper class), and a fleet of snowmachines including a high end racer for Iron Dog champion, Todd.  Income-wise, between the two of them, the family roughly cleared about $150,000-200,000 per year. In other words, the Palins could have afforded new clothes for their ascent onto the national stage although they could not have financed the boutique items the McCain campaign decided were necessary.

Most Alaskans can’t and don’t live like the Palins. While it’s true that many Alaskans shop second-hand, most don’t frequent upscale thrift shops like Second Run (formerly Out of the Closet) in Anchorage, Alaska where Governor Palin liked to shop. And even if they did, few would plunk down $300 for a designer suit jacket. There are very few places to wear uptown attire even in urban Alaska and people are more likely to spend $300 for a good parka. Carhartt, not Valentino, is the label Alaskans look for.

Did Sarah Palin request that the McCain campaign buy her and her family designer clothes? No. Did she express concern over the cost of some of the items? Yes. Did she put a stop to the practice of purchasing high end items with donor funds? No, she didn’t. And therein lies the crux of the problem. If you aren’t willing to take responsibility for something as important as your public image and as personal as the clothes on your back, how are you going to take responsibility for the country?

Why was an otherwise savvy politician willing to place her political future in the hands of McCain operatives? And why wasn’t she better able to handle the problems caused by the dysfunctional campaign? The answers to both those questions have to do with Sarah Palin’s management style and personality.

As governor, Palin had a dislike for the nitty-gritty details of governance. A laissez-faire manager, she was inclined to leave the day-to-day decisions to her staff  with mixed results–sometimes good and sometimes with serious political consequences (e.g. Troopergate).  For a charismatic woman, Palin also had considerable difficulty throughout her career getting along with the people she worked with (staff, legislators, council members, constituents, etc.). Her ascent to a position of power was frequently followed by sturm-and-drang falling outs with former friends, supporters, and allies–most of them Republicans and conservatives.

All of these qualities came to a head during her 2008 vice-presidential run. Yes, the McCain campaign made many serious mistakes, but Mrs. Palin should have paid more attention to where the clothes were coming from and the money was going to. And once the problem was discovered, Mrs. Palin should have worked with the McCain camp to deal with the scandal in a constructive way. Unfortunately, by that point in the campaign, the McCain and Palin camps had become so alienated from each other that Wardrobegate simply became another bitter point of contention.

After all this folderol, what was the final disposition of that pricey wardrobe? At the end of the campaign, Sarah and family returned the clothes to the RNC. The items that were unworn were supposed to be returned to the retail outlets that they were purchased from. The altered items could not be returned and were supposed to be donated to charity. As of May 2009, the Washington Post reported that the RNC, while claiming that the items were no longer “sitting in plastic bags around RNC headquarters”, would not (or possible could not) account for where the clothes had been donated or how many of the items had been given to charity.

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Re: Happy Blogday to Me!

life-spring-hat-gordon-parks-3-03-50Photo by Gordon Parks taken March 03, 1950. From the Life Photo Archive found on the Google search engine site.

I can hardly believe it, but my little blog is one year old this month. Ah, it seems like just yesterday when I first started making the clickety-clicks on the keyboard and now here we are, still going and still growing.
Time for a little housekeeping. As you may recollect, I ran an entry on Fashion in Politics in which I made mention of the Sarah Palin wardrobe scandal that garnered a lot of airtime during this past presidential election. According to Ken Vogel of Politico.com, the final auditing has been done and Republican National Committee has disclosed that it paid $173,000 for clothes for Palin and her family. No followup on what happened to the outfits afterward. The total was $23,000 less than initially thought, but that’s still a freakin’ great wad of cash. No word on whether any jobs were created by the RNC “stimulus spending”.

Here are some cool costume items that don’t fall into a overall category, but which I was very taken with, nevertheless:

star-trek-corset

Star Trek corset by EveningArwen, posted on Etsy.com. Follow this link to see other photos of this great costume piece.

red-rose-coat

This fabulous Red Rose coat was made by ejacqui and posted on Craftster.org. Follow this link to see other photos and read more about the construction. She actually made all those roses by hand.

Re: Halloween 2008 Wrap-Up

Halloween, the costumers’ bestest holiday of all, has come to an end and now it’s time to highlight some of the most original and innovative costumes that appeared during the 2008 season. I’ve mixed in some photos from the July 2008 ComicCon because I thought they would have made great Halloween costumes.

cruella-saucy-dragonfly

Cruella DeVille by saucy dragonfly (Flickr)

Saucy Dragonfly made this inspired Cruella DeVille costume by banding together a number of Dalmatian beany babies and then fastening them to her Dalmatian-print stole. Definitely the hostess with the mostess.

lego-guys

Lego Guys from the 2008 ComicCon held in San Diego, CA.

Click here to check out some more great costumes from 2008 ComicCon which was held in San Diego, CA. Although there are some very elaborate and detailed costumes, the best ones, in my opinion, consist of a simple concept well-executed. Much like these Lego Guys seen above.

rock-me-sexy-jesus

Rock me, Sexy Jesus T-shirt wearers (Hamlet 2). 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA. Taken by San Diego Shooter on (Flickr)

Never underestimate the power of a bad wig and a snappy slogan T-shirt to make a great group costume.

sarah-palin-drag-mjkmjk

Sarah Palin by mjkmjk (Flickr)

When the presidential election is held so close to Halloween, political costumes are certain to be popular. The one above, however, is definitely THE most disturbing Sarah Palin costume I have ever seen.

war-hero-mccain-jmtimages

War hero McCain taken by jmtimages in Austin, TX (Flickr)

Nice combination of political mask and sailor suit, playing on McCain’s service as a Naval aviator.

sarah-palin-zombie

Zombie Sarah Palin by alicia rae (Flickr)

Rumors of in-fighting between the McCain-Palin camps failed to convey the full horror of the experience. Extra points here for innovative use of plastic McCain mask. Can’t go wrong with zombies, I always say.

shrek-fiona

Shrek & Fiona, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

Nicely done re-creation of Shrek and Fiona from the animated movies of the same name. The key to doing a well-done movie costume is to choose a character whose body type most closely resembles your own. Extra points here for comfort. Both of these outfits look like they would by easy to wear during a long day at the convention.

chainsaw-guy

Chainsaw Guy, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

Wear this costume and you will ALWAYS get to the front of the line.

tie-fighter-guys

Tie Fighter Guys, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

A couple of cardboard panels, hoodies, and blue jeans. Sheer genius!

Some costumes are so impressive that they deserve a web page all to themselves. Click here to see Ninkybink’s mini-skirted Marie Antoinette costume on Craftster.

marie-antoinette-shoes

I was particularly impressed by the shoes.

If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” urban fantasy series, you’ll want to take a look at Jim’s first Halloween costume contest winners here. A word of warning: you need to have read the books in order to totally appreciate the costumes.

Re: Let Them Eat Cake

The political blogs are all abuzz with the latest news that the Republican National Committee purchased $150,000 worth of clothes for Governor Sarah Palin and her family. According to Gov. Palin, she wore the high-end togs for only three days which works out to $50,000 per day by my reckoning. [Note: The campaign claims that one-third of the clothes were returned, but that still adds up to about $33,000 per day]. The blogosphere tends to be split between those who view “NeimanMarcusgate” as a trivial distraction from the real issues in the campaign and those who see it as further evidence that Republicans are hypocritical, elitist pigs.

Both sides miss the kernel of truth at the heart of the kerfluffle–that what politicians wear sends a message and that politicians–male and female–are acutely aware of this. In “Fashion is Political”, Robin Givhan, fashion editor for the Washington Post, is interviewed by the International Museum of Women and has a number of insightful things to say on the subject. Check out Givhan’s audio slideshow, “Campaigning in Style”,  where she analyzes the fashion choices of the Democratic and Republican primary candidates.

Male attire has remained essentially unchanged since the 19th century so male fashion choices are much more subtle and easier to miss. That sometimes makes it difficult to decide why a look seems to work for one male candidate and not another. For example, John Edwards may have started off as the son of a millworker, but he’s a millionaire lawyer now so it seemed very out of place for him to dress as a blue collar worker during the Democratic primary. Rudy Giuliani’s three-piece-suit, tie, overcoat, and gloves mark him as a political boss of the Tammany Hall variety–a guy who can schmooze easily at the neighborhood block party, but who also knows where all the bodies are buried and has probably helped bury a few himself. Like women, male candidates have to walk a tightrope between appearing accessible to electorate (“one of you”) and appearing professional and authoritative.

So what exactly do Sarah’s new clothes reveal about her? David Letterman has his own take. To me, the choice made by the Republican National Committee to shell out $150,000 for new clothes for their vice-presidential candidate says that the RNC is perfectly willing to fritter away the donors’ money. People who contributed money to the Republican cause gave it because they wanted to defeat pinko socialist Democrats, not to enrich the Red Chinese so that Gov. Palin could have another mandarin-collared jacket. One hundred and fifty thou could have bought dozens of “Zombies for McCain” buttons or several witches on broomsticks to sky-write “Surrender Obama” over Democratic campaign rallies–legitimate political expenditures :-). If the Republicans can’t be trusted to use their donors’ money properly, how can they be trusted with the taxpayers’ money?

The McCain strategy was clearly to present Gov. Palin as Everywoman, but it didn’t follow through on that political message by echoing it in her wardrobe choices. If Sarah is just an average hockey mom running for office, then shouldn’t she be seen wearing T-shirts, sweatshirts, and turtlenecks like she wore when she ran for governor?  If she’s a representative of small town America, then why are her clothes coming from snobby, elitist East Coast institutions like Saks Fifth Avenue? If she’s the populist outsider running against the politics-as-usual, Armani-wearing D.C. insiders, then why isn’t she wearing blue jeans instead of designer suits?  The lack of consistency undermines the political points the campaign is trying to make.

Bottom line: You can’t go around claiming that you’re just one of the peasants if you’re dressing like Marie Antoinette.

Re: Put It On Your Chest

Was there ever a piece of clothing designed to convey what’s on our minds like the slogan T-shirt? For this post–and because there’s no escape from election coverage–I sampled the zeitgeist of the nation via Zazzle.com, a design-your-own T-shirt shop. For the record, I picked out T-shirts that I thought were especially well-done and/or imaginative. I left out those I deemed to be racist, sexist, or insulting–and it was appalling to see how many of them there were. In my completely unscientific sample,  I detected what appeared to be a larger ratio of Democrat to Republican T-shirts which may reflect the hotly contested Democratic primary.

If you were going just by the T-shirts on display, you could be forgiven for thinking that the presidential race was between Barack Obama and Gov. Sarah Palin. John McCain seldom gets a shirt to himself and is generally only mentioned in a very standardized way along with his running mate.  I thought the moose–again, a reference to Gov. Palin–was a nice touch.

This is one of the few McCain-alone T-shirts I was able to come across. You would think that a guy with his record would inspire more shirts, but I think the lack of designs speaks to the general lack of enthusiasm for him among Republicans in general. McCain likes to style himself, with some justification, as a lone reformer, but the thing about being an army of one is that there is no need for T-shirts for your supporters ’cause you’re on your own.

So, is it really Palin vs. Obama for the presidency? Sure looks that way. What about that other guy …what’s his name …no, not McCain ….

Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, rarely gets mentioned except when paired with his more famous running mate.

If you see pink elephants, you’ve knocked back one too many at the Republican Convention.

There are still more Barack Obama t-shirts than anything. People like to have fun with his name.

Barack is often portrayed as a revolutionary–both positively and negatively. On the positive side, Barack is seen as Dr. Martin Luther King-like figure, an inspiring social reformer. On the negative side, he’s seen as propaganda-mongering socialist–and that’s one of the nicer things that’s said. It’s a reminder that change of any kind has both its supporters and its detractors.

I like the elegance and simplicity of this design. A strong graphic that ties into his name.

It’s easy to forget that there was another candidate in the race not so long ago. Hilary and Barack were running so closely that at times it seemed like a three-way race between her, him, and McCain.

Unfortunately, Hilary came with her own unique political baggage.

And now a tribute to the power of the digital mob. Just two short weeks ago no one knew who Bristol Palin was. Now her name is on a T-shirt. More than one in fact.

My thoughts exactly.