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In her novel Orlando, Virginia Woolf writes of fashion, “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important office than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.”
With Woolf’s words in mind, and the 2016 Presidential election less than three weeks away, examining the fashion of business mogul, Donald Trump and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, offers valuable insight into each candidate, and what’s more, into the American public. Perhaps doing so feels especially relevant in this election cycle, which has taken on the qualities of an embarrassing and harrowing spectacle. And what’s a spectacle without costume?
Matthew Rozsa, a political pundit and American historian who writes for Salon, tells me that by examining the fashion of each party’s nominee, you get a crystalized sense of what has contributed to the popularity of each candidate in the eyes of the American public. “More than any other presidential candidate in recent history, Trump’s physical image is an embodiment of who he represents. Although I don’t think he’s a billionaire; I think he exaggerates his fortune as a multi-millionaire, Trump is a personification of wealth. His power ties. His boxy suits. His unconvincing hair plugs — all of these make it seem like he’s stepping out of Wall Street, the 1980s Oliver Stone movie.” In other words, everything with this guy is pretense, and his fashion reveals what Trump thinks a billionaire should look like.
“Trump is very vain,” Rozsa continues. “His skin has this orange tint to it, with white rims around the eyes, suggesting he tans [in a tanning bed, or using spray tan].” Confirming this conjecture is makeup artist Jason Kelly who gave Harper’s Bazaar the lowdown on Trump’s makeup routine. “I know exactly what he does to himself — the tanning bed, the spray tan, he wears the goggles and you can see the hyper-pigmentation around his eyes,” said Kelly.
Of course a rundown of Trump’s fashion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his comb-over, or hair plugs, or exorbitantly expensive hair weave (there are many speculations on what exactly is going on up there).
Last May, Gawker reported to have gotten an inside tip that Trump wears a $60,000 hair weave, pioneered by hair restoration expert Edward Ivari, whose company Ivari International Centers, Inc. was once located on floor 25 of Trump Tower, one floor beneath the penthouse, occupied by Trump himself. It should be noted that when the Gawker story broke, Ivari denied that Trump was a client. Regardless, why is Trump funneling money into a hairdo that brings him ridicule, and, as Rozsa points out, looks “unconvincing?” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told Business Insider that the Republican Presidential nominee has said baldness is a “terrible thing to suffer,” and further, Trump handed out Rogaine to executives who were losing their hair. So, bad hair is better than no hair. Or, perhaps his wacky hair job is another signifier of his vanity, and his willingness to buy into illusion, at any cost. In many ways, Trump’s style is reminiscent of the secret agent who falls for his own cover story.
As for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Presidential nominee has made the pant suit iconic: a symbol of women doing any job men can do.
Once known for her headband, when she was campaigning for her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, Clinton has embraced the pantsuit and what this garment signifies for women’s liberties. (As an aside, it wasn’t until 1993 that women were allowed to wear pantsuits on the Senate floor.) In the same article, The Atlantic notes that the pantsuit is an acceptable political uniform for women because it’s a statement garment that says as little about style as possible.
Rozsa explains that Clinton, as a female politician, “has to walk a tightrope of femininity. As such, they’re expected to adhere to female beauty standards but they want to make it clear that they’re fully schooled with the men.”
When Clinton came out in the First Presidential Debate wearing a red pantsuit, Rozsa was struck by her bold statement. “The red suit conveyed power and confidence. It’s noticeable but didn’t insist upon itself. It doesn’t say ‘I’m so well-dressed, pay attention to me,’ but you notice it.”
Vogue, which ran a softly lit, demure Annie Leibovitz photograph of Clinton in 1993, just came out and endorsed Clinton for president. Although the magazine is known for its opinions of fashion and not politics, it’s emblematic of the powerful role that style is playing the 2016 election spectacle.
As this election comes to a fever pitch, you’ve got a battle of two suits: the empty businessman’s vs. the statement trailblazer. At least the fashion world’s vote could not be more clear.