We’ve all laughed at Billy Crystal’s savage caricature of Fernando Lamas, a sketch character reportedly born when Crystal heard Lamas, on The Tonight Show, announce that “it is better to look good than to feel good.” That quotation popped into my mind when I read a New York Times style article fawning over Madame Speaker’s exquisite fashion sense:
But with the ascent of Nancy Pelosi, 66, widely recognized and admired for her Armani and easy fashion savvy, the days of the dowdy Washington dress code may be numbered. At least that is the hope of a number of women on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats, who see Mrs. Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, as a fashion leader, too.
During her first week on the job, Mrs. Pelosi clinched votes in the House on the minimum wage, financing for stem cell research and Medicare drug prices, drawing two veto threats (for research and drugs) from a notoriously veto-averse president.
And she did it looking preternaturally fresh, with a wardrobe that, while still subdued and overreliant on suits, has seldom spruced the halls of Congress. On Jan. 9, a Tuesday, she wore an impeccable black and white tweed skirt suit, with strong shoulders and the jacket nipped at the waist; on Wednesday, she draped a red shawl insouciantly around a red suit outside the White House; and on Thursday, she appeared in a mod, deep-blue velvet, slimming pantsuit.
Fashion authorities say Mrs. Pelosi should be applauded for her color choice (burgundy on Jan. 4, the day she was sworn in), her playfulness with jewelry (chunky, but tasteful, including signature Tahitian pearls) and her suit selection (from velvet to tweed), all of which can be imitated at a more affordable price by women who are not wealthy. Women are already taking note of her style; orders of Tahitian pearls have skyrocketed.
“She wears the clothes and the clothes don’t wear her, and that is the way it should be,” said Pamela Fiori, the editor-in-chief of Town & Country magazine, who emphasized that Mrs. Pelosi’s words are nonetheless more important than her clothes. “If she can have a little bit of influence in the Senate and House or in the home, that is not such a bad thing.”
Doesn’t this read like some terrible ad copy from the 1920s, when you could read breathless copy about the little black dress that would take our heroine from afternoon cocktail party, to a quick meeting with her husband’s boss, to an evening on the town dancing the Charleston? Blech. After this saccarhine start, the article then morphs into a generalized complaint about how hard it is for women on the Hill, on both sides of the aisle, to be taken seriously when faced with their daily clothing choices, a topic I find boring.
What the article’s laudatory, drooling tone does call to mind is Robin Givhan’s surpisingly viscious attack on Chief Justice Roberts’ wife for dressing herself and her children nicely when he was sworn in:
The wife wore a strawberry-pink tweed suit with taupe pumps and pearls, which alone would not have been particularly remarkable, but alongside the nostalgic costuming of the children, the overall effect was of self-consciously crafted perfection. The children, of course, are innocents. They are dressed by their parents. And through their clothes choices, the parents have created the kind of honeyed faultlessness that jams mailboxes every December when personalized Christmas cards arrive bringing greetings “to you and yours” from the Blake family or the Joneses. Everyone looks freshly scrubbed and adorable, just like they have stepped from a Currier & Ives landscape.
Apparently style is appropriate when you’re a power Democrat and less so when you’re a Republican.