Note: This post has been updated
No it’s not fair. But it’s the world we live in where a woman can say as much and sometimes more by what she wears as what she says. First Lady Michelle Obama and Republican First Lady hopeful Ann Romney made telling statements in the dresses and designers they chose for their grand appearances on the conventions’ political stage.
Ann Romney chose Oscar de la Renta in signature GOP red. Classic, tasteful and a price tag of approximately $2,000 ($1,900 by the lowest estimates). The dress made a statement about where Mrs. Romney and her husband stand in wealth — on top of it but they’re not aristocrats. It’s the kind of dress that leaves the “wow” factor to the color and accessory choices of the woman who wears it. Mrs. Romney further understated her dress with simple gold jewelry and black pumps. This is the “old money” look for the 21st century. No pearls. And no crass new money diamonds and gems. But a little solid gold bling doesn’t hurt. The dress is made of silk taffeta. It “wrinkles so easily” (Cue Madeline Kahn “Young Frankenstein”). Taffeta makes a statement about status and how close you desire to be to another person including strangers in a big convention hall. The dress was Ann Romney’s choice. It was what she felt comfortable to wear. Oscar de la Renta has designed gowns for First Ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton. For Mrs. Romney, why break with tradition?
First Lady Michelle Obama gave her speech in a dress designed by Tracy Reese. The colors are pink and gray (update: the trim is blue). Price tag: Tracy Reece dresses run between $200 and $500. The pink pumps were from J. Crew (around $245) Mrs. Obama seemed to be less concerned about party colors and more into what works for her including bearing her signature toned arms. The pink dress shimmered and moved as Mrs. Obama moved. Wrinkles look like they’d dissolve on this dress with a few good strides across the stage. Do either women have time to iron before they step out? I remember my mom avoiding at all costs ironing the morning of for fear of potentionally leaving the iron on which could start a fire, not to mention being late for work and school. These are working women’s concerns. Tracy Reese is a young designer compared to de la Renta. Young designers have become the First Lady’s signature fashion statement. Young designers struggle. To be selected by the First Lady is a bump they all dream of. Oscar de la Renta was already an established signature designer at the time he got the calls from the last two First Ladies. Old school vs. New school?
Americans are very uncomfortable talking about class in a serious fashion. Race makes the contrast a lot simpler. Does it matter that one designer is Hispanic and one is African American? What does that signal to voters? Not much. But it could tap into buyers’ decisions. In the 1% vs 99%, haves and have-nots context of this presidential election, both Mrs. Romney’s and Mrs. Obama’s fashion statements can be called “Class acts.”
And now, words in motion.
Transcript from Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC Convention (Tampa, FL)
Transcript from Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC Convention (Charlotte, NC)