Michele Bachmann lost the Iowa caucus — but won the fashion race. Yes, we are going there. Let’s not pretend voters don’t notice what candidates wear — heck, Rick Santorum acknowledged he wears sweater vests to look more mature. And they definitely notice the choices of female candidates, who don’t have the suit-shirt-tie uniform to fall back on.
Fashion experts say Bachmann raised the bar for all women politicians with a classic, feminine style — without letting her clothes become the story. “She did extraordinarily well,” said Christina Logothetis, a D.C. image consultant who writes the Style of Politics blog. “She transformed her look to remove her wardrobe from the conversation.”
A remarkable feat, really: People obsessed over Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and Sarah Palin’s open-toed shoes. Not so much with Bachmann, who created a signature look with done-but-not-too-done hair and makeup and clothes that were flattering but never flirty.
“She was able to convey power without the age-old power suit,” said style consultant Alison Lukes. “She avoided being flashy but also avoided being boring or dowdy.”
The transformation from Minnesota mom to presidential contender started back in 2006, when Bachmann wore a black cocktail dress to her election victory party. “I dress fairly simply,” she told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I like clean lines. I like solid colors. But I like an outfit to have a little kick.”
In the past year, the frills and bright colors of her congressional appearances — what Logothetis calls her “date night with Fox” look — evolved into a more sophisticated and elegant style. (The New Yorker reported that her campaign warned photographers not to shoot her in casual clothing.) Bachmann looked good, but never so good that people started asking how much the clothes cost or if they came from a fancy store or designer. “No one ever looked at her and thought she wasn’t like them,” said Logothetis.
And Bachmann managed to look both feminine and presidential (or however voters imagine a woman president might dress) without resorting to red-white-blue wardrobe cliches. With a soft color palette and “more refined air,” she trumped Palin’s “loudmouth” campaign colors, fashion writer Robb Young told the Wall Street Journal.
Some critics found fault with Bachmann’s French manicures or footwear (the sandals with pantyhose!). But no big deal, explained Logothetis. “Most candidates are photographed from the chest up.”
Read also: The Fix: How Michele Bachmann went bust, 1/5/12