Oil and water, cats and dogs – there are some things in life that are completely separate from one another, and if there were ever two fields that had zero overlap, they were politics and fashion. The closest most politicians of yesteryears ever came to fashion was having a stylish wife, the closest they came to designers was their wife’s closet.
But during the last presidential election, we saw a huge change in presidential PR tactics. I’ll never forget when I first stumbled upon Chictopia and fell in love with Classytrash’s style. At the time, her latest look involved an Alexander Wang for Obama tank top. And blogger favorite Alexander Wang wasn’t the only one who had created a special shirt for then presidential hopeful Barack Obama – the campaign website featured items from over 20 designers, including Vera Wang, Diane Von Furstenburg, Isaac Mizrahi and more. It was unprecedented – the fashion set had largely cast their votes publicly for a specific candidate, but even more astounding was the fact that he had not only welcomed them but actively courted them.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why fashion and politics have never intermingled before. Whereas other arts, such as acting, are respectable on the political playing field, fashion on the other hand is deemed frivolous by traditional media and people. For example, when Obama sat down with the Editor-in-Chief at Glamour, Cindi Leive, the blogsphere pretty much exploded, Refinery29 reported. A contributor to National Review Online, Jim Geraghty, blogged “Can’t wait to see what he thinks of the new collection. Next month, the Cosmo issue.”
The fact that the president had only had one press conference in the prior eight weeks might have led to some jealousy from traditional media, but the rants that came as reactions to the interview, which will be in Glamour’s November issue, revealed something else – a sense of entitlement from the traditional, male-dominated field of journalism, and worse, a dismissive attitude towards women’s publications and the entire magazine’s 12 million readers, who are largely young and female. The dismissive attitude towards the readers, by logical extension, can also be seen as being directed to the whole of the young female and fashionable populace.
The gesture is nothing new – or old. During Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Bill O’Rielly took to the tents seemingly in order to “expose” the young fashion set for what he had already decided they were – pretty but vapid, and largely rich and foreign. Never mind the fact that the week brings industry professionals from a multitude of places and professions together – never mind the fact that those people hold the right to vote (so long as they’re not from Russia, of course, but that’s where all of them are from).
But while Fox News dismissed fashion week attendees, Obama has brought back the same initiative this year, called Runway to Win, featuring designs from Beyoncé and Tina Knowles for babies, a cosmetics bag by Rachel Zoe, and an oversize scarf by Nanette Lepore, to name a few. The campaign paraphernalia on Mitt Romney’s website are more traditional – red, white, and blue items and a pair of silver-plated “R” earrings. The approaches are very different to say the least.
Whether all political parties and figures decide to embrace the fashion industry eventually will remain to be seen. But one thing is for sure is that the country’s youth and young – even the ones who are into aesthetics and fashion – are allowed opinions and voices, and believe it or not, might actually have some. Even younger than the young fashion set are the teenagers who will eventually vote in this country’s elections, and they want Obama to speak to them too. I’m looking forward to seeing how political discourse changes in years to come as it attempts to bring young Americans into the fold…or will it continue to ignore them altogether?
If America’s young people can wear their chosen political candidates on their sleeves – or totes, or cosmetic bags, or chests – you better believe they will. At the end of the day, it all depends on politics, but also on who chooses to conquer that frontier first.