If you still wondered whether or not fashion was political, I hope the controversy over Ann Romney’s and Michelle Obama’s convention dresses has finally convinced you. Romney wore a red dress by the established designer Oscar de la Renta that cost about $1990. By contrast, Obama chose a brocade dress in shimmering colors by up and coming African American designer Tracy Reese. Although this dress was not yet available in stores, Reese’s clothes retail in the $450 price range. Let the battle of interpretations begin.
Why did Ann Romney choose de la Renta? Perhaps because he is a noted designer of First Lady fashions and she was claiming her status in this rarified group. In this category, he has bipartisan appeal. Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton wore his clothes, as did Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush. Or perhaps she chose this particular designer because de la Renta has been an outspoken critic of Michelle Obama for wearing non-American designers and for sometimes having a too casual approach to clothes. Was Ann Romney’s choice a subtle stab at her political rival?
Michelle Obama had the advantage of knowing what Ann Romney wore. Her own choice of a much less expensive dress by an African American woman could have been an intentional counter argument through dress. While Romney chose safe, expensive, and Republican Red, Obama picked an unexpected palette in a much cheaper fabrication from someone not yet inscribed in the designer Pantheon.
But may I also suggest age as a possible consideration in this controversy? To me, de la Renta is a designer for older, well-heeled women. This red dress with sleeves was a logical choice for 63 year old Ann Romney; she appeared to be exactly what she is. By contrast, Tracy Reese has a much younger vibe. Her sleeveless dress let 47 year old Michelle Obama do what she loves best—make unusual fashion choices, display her toned arms, and try to reach out to a younger crowd.