On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Campaigns are highly choreographed affairs, and with cameras capturing every step, image matters. Whether it’s a formal fundraiser or a casual stop at a state fair, what you wear and how you present yourself conveys a lot to voters. We talk with Robin Givhan about the power of image in an election year and the interplay between fashion and politics.
- Robin Givhan Style and culture correspondent, Newsweek/Daily Beast
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. They say that clothes make the man, but do they also make the campaign? As presidential politics proceed at a feverish pace, every image of the candidates and their families is a chance to influence voters for better or worse.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAspiring leaders need to be pulled together, but not too well groomed in clothes that fit the occasion without being over or under-dressed. Here to help us figure out who is hitting the right note and, well, who could use a little help is Robin Givhan. She is a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe spent 15 years as a fashion editor for The Washington Post and won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work there. Robin Givhan, good to see you again.
MS. ROBIN GIVHANIt's nice to be here.
NNAMDIOf course, if you have questions or comments for Robin Givhan, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Does the way a candidate dresses influence your opinion of that candidate? 800-433-8850, conventions for both the candidates and their spouses front and center, a few days before her big speech at the RNC, you wrote that Ann Romney has not displayed a consistent signature style as of yet and suggested, quoting here "let self-possession begin" with something in a nice bracing solid.
NNAMDIDo you think her choice of dress, which she apparently fought for marks, a shift in evolution, if you will, in her personal style?
GIVHANWhy, I like to think, of course, that she read my column and took it to heart when she chose the nice, bracing red...
NNAMDIOf course, what else?
GIVHAN...Oscar de la Renta dress. You know, I think that like a lot of women who have been in her position, and it has been mostly women, as the campaign progresses, they do, I think come, into their own in terms of style. If, you know, they don't have a signature style to begin with, if they're not sort of aficionados, as it were, of fashion and I mean, I think she's sort of moving there.
GIVHANI think to some degree the fact that she talked about sort of fighting for what she wanted to wear was an indication of her recognition that it mattered, certainly to her. Whether or not it mattered simply because she wanted to make sure she felt comfortable or because she wanted to make sure that what she was wearing reflected, you know, the tenor of what it was that she planned to say, I don't know, but there was clearly a sense of I need to be comfortable in my presence onstage.
NNAMDIWell, she did have to fight for what she wore. One of the people she had to fight was senior campaign advisor Stuart Stevens. What she said about him was funny. She said he wears his shirts inside out and he's advising me what dress I should wear tonight.
NNAMDIMichelle Obama is the rare political spouse who enjoys clothes and is not afraid to say so, but we sometimes forget that her style has changed significantly since she first stepped into the spotlight. How has the way she uses fashion evolved?
GIVHANOne of the things that was really striking to me when I was looking back at very early stages of their first presidential campaign was that she actually wore a lot of suits, a lot of business suits. And, you know, to be honest, they weren't the most fashionable suits.
GIVHANYou know, they tended to be kind of boardroom staples with a little bit of sort of the feminine edge to them. And I think over the course of that campaign, she went from these kind of, almost nondescript suits that were really just about projecting, you know, a power image in the boardroom to dabbling in a kind of Jackie Kennedy classic, preppy style which was all about, you know, pearls and a little flip in her hair which she used to wear pretty regularly.
GIVHANAnd then that kind of slowly moved into what I think is really her style now, which is about confidence and it's very contemporary and it's very sort of sleek in terms of the way that it flatters her shape. But it's not traditionally power, it's not a really provocatively power style of dressing, which I think is very savvy on her part because she looks like a mom.
NNAMDII was about to say it seems as if her perception of her role is what has also evolved because wearing the suits ,you first mentioned she came from the law profession where she presumably spent a significant amount of time in boardroom-type situations and then at this convention, we heard her describe herself as first mom or mom in chief or words to that effect extending -- and her clothing seems to have evolved along with that perception.
GIVHANI mean, I think she's been very smart in the way that she's used the clothing because it has underscored that idea that she is a mom, but not in that sort of 1950s Donna Reed kind of mom. It's very contemporary. It's very savvy. It's very smart. It's very sort of professional mom.
GIVHANBut she had a lot to kind of deal with on the way to that image and on the way to very high approval ratings. I mean, she had to kind of tamp down this idea that she was this excessively strong, overly aggressive, somewhat...
GIVHAN…dare I say it, exactly, the word angry black woman. And I think the clothes play a huge part in her being able to shift that perception.
NNAMDIRobin Givhan is our guest. She is a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. You may remember her from spending 15 years as fashion editor for The Washington Post and she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work there.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, 800-433-8850, I'm about to talk about cost in the case of Sarah Palin. So should the cost of a politician's or their family's clothes be fair game in an election year? What do you think? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIDuring that 2008 campaign, a lot of ink was spilled and hot air blown about the amount of money the RNC spent on Sarah Palin's wardrobe. After their respective speeches, some attention was paid to the comparative cost of the candidates' wives dresses. Is that, well, fair?
GIVHANWell, I think it's fair in terms of how they're presenting themselves. I mean, people were up in arms about the cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe because the campaign was making a concerted effort to paint her as this kind of, you know, hockey mom who was out there eating hot dogs and drinking beer and you know, it was very much kind of an every woman. And every woman doesn't go into Neiman Marcus and spend, you know, $1,000 on a dress so there was a disconnect and it went to about whether or not the image was authentic.
GIVHANNow, you know, by contrast, you have someone like Cindy McCain who, you know, was a wealthy woman and made no bones about the fact that she was a wealthy woman and her clothes reflected that. And I don't think she got very much grief at all because no one was surprised if she walked in wearing, you know, diamonds the size of gumballs.
GIVHANSo I think the only disconnect is when campaigns attempt to say one thing and then the image suggests another. And I don't think that anyone necessarily would be particularly upset with Ann Romney for wearing, you know, an Oscar de la Renta dress that cost a couple of thousand dollars, unless you start thinking about the kind of sort of ambivalence that she seemed to be portraying in her speech when she talked about...
NNAMDIThat's what I was about to get to.
NNAMDIIf she's talking about their background and suggesting during that conversation that they live the kind of life that most Americans could identify with who are not particularly wealthy, then does that affect how she has to be perceived thereafter in terms of what she wears?
GIVHANWell, I think you just have to be honest, you know. I think that if you're going to sort of go back and talk about eating, you know, tuna with your husband from, you know, back in the day when you were, you know, struggling or, you know, self-describe as struggling, then I think you also have to kind of acknowledge where you are now and say, hey, now I get to wear these dresses that you know, cost thousands of dollars and...
NNAMDIYou're beginning to sound like George Jefferson.
GIVHAN...it's a real joy. Yeah, exactly. I've moved on up and it's wonderful and it's exciting and I want other people to be able to do that. But I think if you show any hint of embarrassment or defensiveness about that, that's where the trouble starts.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, please don your headphones so you can hear our callers. We will start with Rhonda who is in Carroll County, Md. Rhonda you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RHONDAHi, Kojo, I really enjoy your show. I just wanted to comment and this really ties into what you were just talking about with Michelle Obama's accessibility with her wardrobe. I find it really appealing. Now I find it, you know, sort of in a knot. I think it's offensive when, you know, politicians' wives or, you know, themselves, you know, are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on the wardrobe when there are people that you know, are unemployed and facing tremendous economic situations.
RHONDAI also find it really relatable. You know, she wears clothes that, you know, I might be able to, you know, go out and afford so I find it really relatable. And so I was wondering if you would just comment on that.
NNAMDIShe finds Michelle Obama's clothes for her accessible.
GIVHANWell, you know, one of the things that she said was about the idea of politicians' wives spending lots of money. One thing that I would point out is that as Americans, we kind of want it both ways. I mean, we want the accessibility, but then on occasions like a state dinner or an inauguration or a visit abroad, we want to be represented in the best possible way.
GIVHANAnd so when you look at the evening gowns, for instance, that Mrs. Obama has worn on state dinners and during visits to Buckingham Palace and so forth, those are, you know, we're talking thousands of dollars. I mean, they're one- of-a-kind dresses, but I think there is an element of when you're on that giant world stage.
GIVHANRepresent, spend the money. We don't take issue with it.
NNAMDIIt's what you wear on an everyday basis that we may have some concerns about. Rhonda, thank you very much for your call. On to Ms. Dee in Washington, D.C. Ms. Dee, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
MS. DEEThanks so much, Kojo, and I just wanted to thank Robin. I just love, love, love your articles. They always so smart and just spot-on...
GIVHANOh thank you so much.
DEE...and I get such a hoot. I mean, I usually print them so that I can settle down somewhere where I have space where if I laugh out loud, it's not going to disturb anyone. I mean, I know you must keep your girlfriends laughing. Just as an example, when Robin Brooks (sp?) from the U.K. was going through her turmoil and you talk about her hair and I think you put something in the article about, she looks like she's at -- I think a Punch and Judy contest and I went online and I said, who in the world is Punch and Judy?
DEEAnd when I saw the pictures, I screamed. It's like you go back so far or...
NNAMDIYes, those of us of a certain age know about Punch and Judy, but go ahead, please.
DEEOh, my God, when you talked about John Roberts and his family and they looked like Necco wafers. I'm like, where does she go to pull these things out? I just want to tell you I just really, really, really enjoy your writing. It just gives me a smile almost every time I read it.
GIVHANWell, you've made my day. Thank you so much.
DEEYou didn't say anything about -- you talked about Michelle's fashions before the convention. What do you think of her, the dress that she wore? I didn't see anything that you wrote about that.
NNAMDIWell, now you can hear what she says about the dress that she wore.
GIVHANYou know, I thought it was a beautiful dress and I thought that it was one of those choices that had a lot of sort of interesting, -- had an interesting subtext. You know, it was designed by an independent African-American woman, Tracy Reese who is from Detroit, Mich. who has provided clothes to the first lady in the past and her work is, as someone else said, it's very accessible. It's not extremely expensive and it was very much in keeping with the First Lady's sensibility.
GIVHANBut what I thought was especially striking was that for as much as people were talking about the dress and how terrific it looked, it did not overshadow the speech. And to me, that's a success when you have these two things that are working in tandem and one, you know, highlights the other or one makes the other look better, sound better but it doesn't overshadow.
NNAMDIAnd how about the dress she wore the night she accompanied her husband on stage. It was different both in texture and in form. Does it make a difference?
GIVHANWell, I mean, I think one dress is when you are in the spotlight and one is when your part of sort of a family portrait. And, you know, people talk a lot about sort of that classic image of, you know, the family with the two girls. And when you look at those images you also kinda notice that they're not matchy-matchy, but they're sort of coordinated. And, again, it's just sort of having an eye for that historical record.
GIVHANAnd, I mean, it goes back to many images of the First Family together. And, you know, to me it's just -- it's natural. I think as you become more accustomed to being in the public eye you recognize that every image is possibly destined for the history books and you want to have control over that image and you want to make sure that it says what you want it to say.
NNAMDIMiss Dee, thank you very much for your call. I noticed that at the end of every convention that I've covered when the candidates families and the vice-presidential choice and the families accompany them all onstage, a lot of pointing starts to begin. They start pointing -- so you have to wear clothes that are I guess appropriate for pointing. Because I know half the time they can't see because the lights are so bright down in the audience.
GIVHANI don't think they're pointing to anyone. I think they're just randomly flailing for the camera.
NNAMDIYeah, I think, yeah, that's a television director's instruction. Point when you get down there as if you're recognizing. We've really got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation with Robin Givhan about style on and off the campaign trail. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think a double standard persists in our expectation of men's and women's appearance? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Robin Givhan, special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast about style on and off the campaign trail and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. If you have any questions for Robin Givhan give us a call or send us a Tweet at kojoshow, email to email@example.com or simply go to our website, kojosho.org, and ask your question there.
NNAMDIDelegates and guests attending the conventions are often shown on TV wearing outlandish hats and bizarre almost costume-like outfits. What do you make of the juxtaposition between what we see on stage and, well, the madness that we saw (unintelligible) in the crowd?
GIVHANWell, I do think it's a little bit of madness. Well, I have it varied that some of it has to do with this idea that obviously the conventions are -- they're a show. They're a show of enthusiasm and patriotism and, you know, all of those things to kind of, you know, rev up the voter. But mostly it's the show of patriotism. And for so many -- culturally we tend to think of patriotism as sort of State Fair patriotism, you know, cowboy hats and beauty queens and red and white and blue and that kind of almost circus-like attire. And we don't think of patriotism in terms of opera, ballet, the philharmonic. You know that doesn't really count.
GIVHANAnd so that's why I always feel like when you look at those delegates and they're trying to give you this instant visual of I am more patriotic than any of those people in that other party's convention, they pull out the cowboy hats and the pins and the buttons and the flags and, you know, practically dress themselves up like a flag. And that's our shorthand. That is our cultural shorthand for what it means to be authentically patriotic.
NNAMDINow, who will be the director of a national convention of a major political party who says we will deviate from that norm. We will encourage our delegates to dress like they're going to the opera. We will encourage our delegates to dress like they're going to a hip hop concert. Who is going to be that director?
GIVHANSomeone who will probably be fired the day after the convention. But I do think that, you know, it's a contradiction because the convention is serious business. It's about electing the next leader of the country. And you would think that people would, in fact, dress like they were going to a business meeting or something quite serious. And instead, you know, they sort of pull out the party costumes.
NNAMDIWell, gone are the days when conventions were places where the candidate was finally decided on in smoke-filled rooms and as a result of backroom deals and negotiations. Now the conventions are really long infomercials promoting. So -- and when -- somebody who goes to a lot of these conventions, I can tell you the overwhelming majority of delegates and guests at the conventions are there to party. So I guess they wear what they consider to be appropriate patriotic party clothing.
NNAMDIA recent profile of President Obama in Vanity Fair revealed, among other things, that he purposely limits his suit choices to three colors. Smart move?
GIVHANI think it's a completely brilliant move. And, you know, I mean, I think that because one, he's right. You've got -- he has a million decisions that he has to make on any given day and any given hour and why add clothing to that. But it's also a recognition that men have this wonderful bit of power camouflage called the business suit. And we know that in three basic colors, dark grey, black and navy it is a shorthand that is understood around the world. And you really do not have to think about it.
GIVHANI mean, I think it's interesting that, you know, colors like dark brown ala Ronald Reagan didn't make the cut or, you know, the khaki suit, which became part of sort of the business casual vernacular, you know, didn't make the cut either. Things like pinstripes or herringbone or, you know, windowpane checks and things like that don't make the cut. I mean, they're very -- it's very simple and it's also very conservative and straightforward. And that's really all that he needs.
NNAMDIIs that Washington? Would that also fly in New York, the three suits -- the three colors?
GIVHANAbsolutely. I mean, it's universal and I think that when you start adding those other aspects to it than, you know, sort of the stripes and you start thinking of sort of the banker stripes and do you really want, you know, to conjure up that image of the banker? Certainly at this time, no you don't. So, I mean, those are the most conservative and the least provocative of anything that a man can wear.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones and Ana in Annapolis, Md. Ana, your turn.
ANAHi there. I'm really enjoying your show today and I'm glad you're mentioning the gentlemen now in the political process. Because I've been watching a lot, like everyone else has, and every time I see Mitt Romney show up at a venue wearing blue jeans it's almost as -- I know he's trying to connect with the average man, but it's almost as if it's an insult to all the patrons who are showing up. Everyone gets dressed up and they're excited to see him and he walks out on the stage and he has a very expensive button-down on, very expensive loafers and then a pair of blue jeans.
ANAAnd I almost feel like it's disrespectful to those people who go there to see him. I want to see what your views are on that.
GIVHANI don't know that I would necessarily think it's disrespectful but I do think that it is obviously an attempt to make a connection sort of on a more human level. I think it's to -- it's an attempt to sort of step away from an image that can be a bit sort of cold and aloof. You know, it's interesting coming from Romney because quite early in the campaign he has -- from the beginning he was selling himself as a businessman and someone who would take a businessman's approach to the country's ills.
GIVHANBut at the same time he was working quite hard not to come across as looking like a businessman. You know, instead of looking like the guy who was at the top of the food chain who perhaps is handing out the pink slips, he was dressing much more like the guy who owns one of those infamous small businesses. And I think that's the distinction.
GIVHANAnd, you know, one of the other aspects as well, when you talk about that sense of disappointment or insult it reminds me of something that the great philanthropist Brook Aster was once quoted as saying. And that is, when she would go and visit some of the charities that she sponsored she would put on the full Brook Aster uniform, from the hat and the jewels to the shoes, the whole nine yards.
GIVHANAnd someone once said to her, don't you think that's a little much? I mean, you're going to visit a food bank. Don't you think that's a little, you know, disrespectful to the people that you're going to see? And she said, they expect to see Brook Aster and that is who I'm presenting. I'm not coming in, you know, dressed down. That would be more disrespectful.
NNAMDIIf you're going to see a star, you want that person to look like a star when you go to see that person regardless of your own circumstances. Do you often find that the person that you are supporting in the presidential race, whether it is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in your view dresses better than his opponent? Call us, 800-433-8850. Robin, you've written about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's aggressively groomed style and point out that Ryan's suits always seem, well, a size too big. But you think may actually be a calculated move. Why?
GIVHANWell, this is a guy who spends a lot of time taking great care with his physique and to me it just seems like the suits are a studied effort to make sure that he doesn't come across looking too slick. You know, he's very young for -- to be in that position. And I think if he wore a suit that really fit him, one that was much closer to the body, it would A. make him look a bit younger, but I think it would also, you know, give him a much slicker, smoother look.
GIVHANAnd slick and smooth are not words that politicians want applied to them. You know, it's something that marks them as different and marks them as, you know, this sort of perhaps a little bit less trustworthy, a little bit less relatable. So that's why I tend to think that it's no sort of coincidence that his suits tend to be a bit baggy and make him look a little less polished.
NNAMDII'm grabbing my clothes off the rack just like you guys and sometimes I don't exactly get the right size, so I'm just like you.
GIVHANYou know, I think he sort of comes off as a little bit of a shlub.
NNAMDIAnd that, you say, is calculated and intentional. On to Levine (sp?) in Burke, Va. Levine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEVINEHi. My question is about the president's ties. I noticed how four years ago he would usually wear solid colored ties and more recently he switched to wearing striped ties. And my question is, is there a different image that's projected with the striped ties or do you think it's just that he got tired of wearing solid colored ties all the time?
GIVHANMaybe the last few Father's Days and Christmases have expanded his tie wardrobe. I mean, I do think that a striped tie is a little bit jazzier than a solid tie. And, you know, for more formal occasions a solid tie is a bit more preferred. But to me I think it's much more just that one place where you can have a little bit of personality in the wardrobe for men.
NNAMDIHow about socks? The other thing we get on Fathers' Day a lot is socks. So the presidential -- or the president -- president or the presidential candidates wear really wild socks that showed when they sat down. What image would that project?
GIVHANI have sadly not been privy to the presidential sock drawer but I have noticed that when he is seated, the socks tend to be a very boring solid shade of navy or black.
NNAMDII'd like to see if you could get away with brightening up your socks. Levine, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Vicki in Washington, D.C. Vicki, your turn.
VICKIThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. Big fan of both yours and Robin's. I have a comment and than a question. I'd like to know what Robin thinks about kind of the presentation of Candidate Romney and his wife as a couple and how they dress. It strikes me, as I've been watching the campaign, that they present themselves in terms of their dress in a very upper crust kind of Newport, R.I. or country club kind of image. And that for me reinforces kind of the sense that, you know, they really haven't had this kind of middle class experience.
VICKIAnd I'm just wondering if Robin agrees with that, and if so what she thinks that does for kind of what it is that they are trying to achieve in terms of getting elected.
GIVHANThat's an interesting takeaway because to me it says that, you know, a lot of their efforts have not been successful. Because I think that Romney has tried very hard not to project that kind of upper crust country club sensibility. So, you know, I don't know if perhaps that's unavoidable regardless of what they wear, so long as there's a dressage horse in the picture. You know, I think that there are certain aspects of their lives, details of which are constantly reinforcing a sense of wealth and privilege that no matter how many pairs of jeans and rolled-up sleeves Romney wears can't really contradict.
GIVHANBut with Mrs. Romney, you know, I don't necessarily see country club as much as I see kind of suburban mom because her clothes certainly are not the sort of workaday attire of a professional woman who's working outside of the home. I mean, that's not something that she necessarily needs. And it doesn't have that look of sort of the constant philanthropist, the woman who is going from one charity event to another charity meeting to another charity meeting.
GIVHANI mean, I notice a lot of really strong prints in her wardrobe and things like, you know, wrap dresses and very easy kinds of pieces that to me really speak to, you know, the flexibility and informality of a stay-at-home mom but I don't see focus. I don't see someone who is accustomed to dressing for cameras.
NNAMDIVicki, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIAnd Robert in Ocean City, Md. wants to address the issue of why Ryan wears what seems to be larger suits. Robert, you're on the air from Ocean City, Md. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTHey, Kojo. How you doing? I love the show today. It's always interesting to hear the different subtext that everyone gets out of, you know, what people wear. Yeah, my theory actually is that it is a calculated move but they're doing it so he doesn't overshadow Romney. That was -- when I first saw him -- if you see him earlier on in his own prestige and stuff before he actually got the nomination, I actually think it's more of a calculated move to make sure he doesn't overshadow Romney and not take away from the boss, so to speak.
NNAMDISo you're saying that the bigger suits make him seem smaller?
ROBERTYes. If you look at, you know, kind of like a little kid in a suit kind of thing.
NNAMDIThe bigger suits make Paul Ryan seem smaller so it doesn't distract from our perception of the candidate himself. What do you think?
GIVHANI think that's a good point. I mean, it definitely does make him look even younger. And when you wear a suit that is too big you tend to look smaller. But -- and going with that I also think that, you know, if he wore a suit that really fit he has a very strong physique and that would I think also distract from Romney as well. I mean, he's got the physique of a guy who works out a lot and has, you know, sort of the shoulders to prove it, and then you've got, you know, Romney who not so much does he work out.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Robert. In this era of high-definition TV and a camera in every pocket, public figures, male and female, have to be conscious of their appearance at virtually all times. Earlier this year you wrote about the hullabaloo that ensued after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was photographed on a trip to Bangladesh wearing very little makeup. Does a double standard persist along gender lines when it comes to appearance, or is it more complicated than that?
GIVHANWell, there is double standard, but I don't necessarily think that it's always a negative, that it's always measured as a negative. You know, when Secretary Clinton appeared in those photographs, when she looked very real and she looked tired, and she looked like the reality of what her job is, and I think for some people that was startling because we often don't really get a full sense in visual terms of, you know, the toll that those kinds of jobs take on people. So I think that was one thing that was particularly striking, and the other is that we are not used to a kind of, you know, full-on honesty in terms of the way that public people present themselves.
GIVHANI mean, great care is taken to cover up the bags under someone's eyes, or to cover up a few stray gray hairs, or to make sure that, you know, there aren't any flyaways. I mean, we're used to a certain kind of polish that is not only just sort of a standard, but it's reassuring because, you know, I mean, I sort of imagine like what would happen if, you know, the president came in for his news conference and he looked harried, and he looked as exhausted as he felt, he looked discombobulated.
GIVHANI mean, that would -- regardless of what he said, there would -- just that appearance would startle and perhaps frighten people. So I think some of that was going on, and then with women, I mean, there's always this element of they don't have uniform, there aren't these easy ways to just sort of camouflage the body and then just have people focus on what they're saying. But I also firmly believe that there are opportunities that are had from that as well, that women have such a wider range of what they can say with their clothing than men do.
GIVHANThat when they take advantage of that and really use it to effect, and I would point to Michelle Obama in that regard, that it really adds to their message.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, if you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If not, the number is 800-433-8850. Do you intentionally use clothes to underscore a point or shape people's opinions of you? How well is that working for you? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We discussing style on and off the campaign trail with Robin Givhan. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. Robin Givhan spent 15 years as fashion editor for the Washington Post. There she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you could send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We got an email from Carla.
NNAMDI"On the subject of Obama's decision to only wear two or three colors, do you think that would work for a female president or a high-level official like Secretary Clinton?"
GIVHANI think it would absolutely work. I mean, I think about Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign when she essentially relied on a uniform, a black pantsuit, and she would wear perhaps a different color blouse, or maybe a sweater tossed around her shoulders, but essentially every day she went out and campaigned in a black pantsuit, and while people initially thought how many pairs -- how many black pantsuits does she really have, it eventually took the subject of her clothes off the table.
GIVHANAnd I think about Janet Reno who, you know, wore these very conservative vaguely dowdy suits, but they were so standard, and they were so nondescript in a way, that she ostensibly removed any conversation about her clothes off the table. So it absolutely is possible, and women have done it.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect your response there surprised a lot of people. Last week a list of President Obama's bundlers, people who collect campaign contributions from friends and colleagues, came out, and number four on that list was Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. Rumors are swirling. Do you think her fundraising has a direct connection to her post-Vogue aspirations?
GIVHANWell, that is the million-dollar question. You know, she will be celebrating 25 years next year, which is sort of a nice little chunk of history to sort of step away from, and she's been also the longest-serving editor at Vogue save for one. So she has quite a legacy, and what's most striking about that legacy is not her, you know, pronouncements about trends, but it's been her business acumen.
GIVHANIt's been her focus on helping young designers build businesses, elevating the American fashion industry, and creating sort of a legacy of help for young designers, and her enthusiasm for Obama, which goes back to the 2008 campaign. So whether or not, you know, there's a political-related future for her, I mean, she's on the president's committees on the arts and humanities, and the thing that was most surprising to me is that as the rumors of a possible ambassadorship swirled, I didn't talk to anyone who immediately slapped them down as preposterous, particularly for places like the UK or for France where there's a very long history of ambassadors being people who have come not from the world of diplomacy.
NNAMDIYou don't have to have a lot of foreign policy experience.
GIVHANYou don't. I mean, as one former ambassador said to me, what you really need is an expertise at creating networks, and as a business person, that's one of the things that's she's quite skilled at.
NNAMDIAnd you have to be also usually well-heeled enough to throw big great parties. Onto the telephones. Here now is Bill in Gaithersburg, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLThank for taking my call. I wonder if you could comment on what I consider to be a developing issue for men, and that is that fashion maybe irrelevant or at least the propriety of fashion may be irrelevant, and what I mean by that is, when I go to a restaurant or formal occasion, probably 90 to 95 percent of the men don't have ties on, number one. Number two, most of the young guys to whom I speak don't even know how to tie a knot, much less the difference between (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIMuch less a bowtie, but go ahead, please.
BILLRight. So I'm beginning to wonder if we haven't entered a face of sartorial irrelevance when it comes at least to men's fashion, and if that's the case, I'm not sure to what extent what President Obama wears or somebody else wears who's in a prominent position really makes any difference.
GIVHANWell, I too -- I understand what you're saying. I feel your pain, but what I would say is that it's not the death of style or fashion. I think it's much more so just the decline of etiquette. You know, when you go into restaurants and go to concerts, it's not that people don't have a sense of style, and they're not concerned about what they're wearing, it's just that there are no longer the rules that apply to certain situations where appropriateness is what people are concerned with.
GIVHANYou know, more and more when I talk to particularly men, but also women, one of the first things that they'll say when you ask them what do you look for in your clothes, and they mention comfort. They want to be comfortable. Well sometimes you have to, you know, give up a little bit of your comfort in order to possible polite, and sometimes politeness means dressing well for the occasion.
GIVHANYou know, sometimes people think that, you know, they have this -- that they should be as comfortable on the streets as they are in their pajamas, and, you know, I say if you want to be that comfortable stay home. So I don't think it's the death of style, I just think it's like in many other areas of our culture, people are much more concerned about their own sense of comfort, then they are about the people who have to look at them.
NNAMDIWe'll be talking about etiquette this Food Wednesday when we'll be looking at the dos and don'ts of the business lunch. That's on Wednesday at noon. But Bill, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Coretta in Arlington, Va. Hi, Coretta. You're on the air.
CORETTAHi, Kojo. I love the show and I love Robin. Love listening to your guys. So had a question. I'm an accessories girl. I'm a Stella and Dot jewelry stylist, and I love broaches and pearls and big chunky statement pieces. And I remember that Madeleine Albright was well known for her broach collection. It seems like the ladies have moved a little bit further from just the all pearls DC look. Just wondering what you think about the accessories by the women, especially the wives on the campaign trail this season.
GIVHANYeah. Madeleine Albright has a tremendous collection of broaches. In fact, they were part of an exhibition in New York, and I think it actually traveled. But yeah, you know, I haven't -- one of the things that's interesting about Ann Romney is that her accessories are quite bold. I mean, she's worn multistrand pearl necklace, which she has said, you know, they're faux pearls. They're enormous faux pearls, and, you know, she's also worn, you know, interesting bracelets and things like that.
GIVHANThe first lady still relies on broaches although she's also moved into more statement neck laces, and I will also say that Hillary Clinton has a really fantastic collection of statement necklaces that she wore quite a bit when she was running for president. So, you know, some people have issues with her style, but I say she's got a great sense of accessory style.
NNAMDICoretta, thank you very much for your call. Speaking of Ann Romney, here is Joan in Potomac, Md. Joan, your turn.
JOANThank you. I have two comments. One is, we talk about Ann Romney and her clothes, and they look like country club look and everything, but yet everything we're advertised and marketed to as women wants us to look up scale and look like that. So why is the criticism that she was dressing expensively when that's what the ads tell you to do. My second...
NNAMDIWell, that criticism didn't come from Robin Givhan, but go ahead, please.
JOANMy second comment is though while Hillary may have a sense of style with her accessories, what's wrong with her hair? Did somebody advise her on her hair? It's awful.
NNAMDIYour turn, Robin Givhan. First.
GIVHANWell, I actually like her hair, so I'm, I guess, on the opposite side of the table from you on that. I think that when she decided to grow out her hair, that it was a fantastic, first of all statement, just because as a certain age, women are practically bullied into cutting their hair, as if, you know, you hit, I don't know, 50, and all of a sudden this idea of long hair and all the things that go along with that, the flirtatiousness, the vibrancy of longer hair, is suddenly now off limits to you, and I think that it's great that she has essentially ignored that sort of cultural expectation and she's let her hair go longer.
GIVHANAs for the country club look, I don't think that women are told that they are supposed to look up scale. I think that women are told that they are, you know, supposed to exude this complicated cocktail of sexiness, confidence, power and femininity, and that is one of the things that makes it difficult for women to feel like they've kind of hit the right note when they are dressing themselves in the morning, but the idea of just looking up scale, I think particularly in fashion is actually sort of looked down upon.
GIVHANNo one wants to -- no one is suggesting that women should look like, you know, everything that they're wearing from head to toe has some fancy designer label on it.
NNAMDIIndeed, the last time you were here we got an email from a listener who said she's interested in learning more about fashion, but doesn't know where to start. Are there any resources that you would recommend?
GIVHANWell, if I were just trying to learn more about the industry itself, I mean, there are a couple of fantastic books on that, and one is "The End of Fashion" by the writer Teri Agins, and it's, you know, not as dismal as the title would suggest, but it's basically a look at the way that fashion evolved from this dictatorial industry into one that's more democratic. If I were just simply trying to become more adept as dressing myself, the designer Miuccia Prada had one wonderful piece of advice, and that is she said, I don't -- she doesn't know why it is people think that a sense of style should come naturally.
GIVHANThat it's something that you learn, that you have to practice in the same way that you don't wake up suddenly a spectacular basketball player. You have to go out there and work at it. And so go into stores and try on clothes and figure out what you like and take along an honest friend who will say thumbs up, thumbs down. But the only way to really understand fashion is to play at it.
NNAMDIThe hardest part about that whole thing is finding an honest friend, but that's another -- that's a long story. We got an email from Susan who said, "Men have a shorthand business suit, but what about the campaign outfit of rolled sleeve shirts and khakis? It's getting awfully boring. Can male candidates get away with having more original look on the campaign trail ala Rick Santorum and his sweater vests? I like to see more of the personalities of the men," say Kelly.
GIVHANI kind of have a love-hate relationship with the Rick Santorum sweater vest. I appreciated its originality, but it was really not an attractive look. But you're right. I mean, the rolled up sleeves and khakis, that's the universal political uniform of I'm about to be speak earnestly to you now. So yeah, I think they could perhaps switch to maybe khakis and a Henley. Maybe that's, you know, the new uniform.
NNAMDIWell, as someone who has been wearing sweater vests for years, imagine my surprise when I wore one and everybody said, oh, you've got the Rick Santorum look, and I'm like...
GIVHANI am quite sure your sweater vest was far more stylish.
NNAMDIShe lied cleverly. Robin Givhan is a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. She spent 15 years as fashion editor for the Washington Post where she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism. Robin Givhan, always a pleasure. Good to see you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Go out and dress. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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