The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gasp! Germany’s Merkel is an ‘outfit repeater.’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is an outfit repeater.

You know, someone who wears the same clothes more than once in public? That’s what the snarky Kate Sanders tells the title character in “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” She goes even farther in her insult by describing Lizzie’s dress as “a questionable disaster of fiber content.” Lizzie’s sin? She wears the same garment to the spring dance and to 8th grade graduation.

Merkel has been photographed wearing the same brightly colored tunic, or “robe,” as The Times of London called it, at events in 1996, 2002 and now 2014. She was damned with faint praise as living up to her reputation as “Europe’s most frugal leader” for the fashion repeat.

She’s not alone, though, in recycling favorites. Essence pointed out that first lady Michelle Obama has reused “hot pieces” from her wardrobe as “an easy way to stay eco-chic.”

I’m not familiar with “eco-chic” but assume we’re talking about a marriage of fashion and economics. Most of us cannot afford a new outfit for every event, and I know I still wear some items purchased before my 16-year-old son’s birth. There’s at least one coat I drag out in the winter months that predates my 22-year-old daughter.

Women in the public spotlight are damned if they do, damned if they don’t when it comes to their fashion choices. Remember the flak over the cost of the wardrobe for former Gov. Sarah Palin when she was campaigning as the vice presidential candidate?

Obama has been criticized for the cost of some outfits as well, and yet fails to win kudos for choosing inexpensive off-the-rack clothes accessible to any middle-class mom.

A survey last year found that any description — even neutral or positive — of a female candidate’s appearance damaged the likelihood that people would vote for her.

We need to get over this obsession with what women in politics (and yes, I’m including first ladies in this group) wear. We don’t usually put male politicians in the same mirror. As Joseph Willits tweeted:

The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan did describe former vice president Dick Cheney, who wore an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood, as “dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.”

But she writes on fashion, and he was representing the United States at a ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland.

A response to Jim Romenesko’s blog Wednesday pointed out that former president Ronald Reagan faced ridicule for his brown suits, or for wearing the same brown suit over and over. Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan details a poignant visit with Reagan, by then lost in Alzheimer’s, who was wearing “the old brown suit, the one we always made fun of,” but it had been altered to fit his aging frame.

Clothes shouldn’t get the attention. It should be the actions, the causes, the views of women and men in leadership positions.

I like Lizzie’s response to her nemesis: “Okay, I may be an outfit repeater, but you are an outfit rememberer, which is just as pathetic!”

She’s right. It’s pathetic that clothes become such an issue.