Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren moves with the fleet-footed bounce of a featherweight fighter — an agile pugilist who has been using Twitter to deliver jabs and hooks to Republican front-runner Donald Trump. She is not an especially elegant fighter, but she’s fast — throwing a barrage of blows: “loser,” “pathetic,” “weak.”
And in person, too, her style is aerodynamic, with her short sandy hair, rimless glasses, necklace-free decolletage and tiny stud earrings. She is nearly accoutrement-free as she moves against the headwinds. She looks quick and agile. Flexed for a fight. And her sleeves are always rolled up — literally and metaphorically. She is ready to get her hands dirty.
Warren favors trim jackets in bold, TV-friendly colors: turquoise and raspberry, purple and shades of Twitter blue. Her jackets just brush her hips; the lapels are minimal; and she often keeps her collar popped, as if the blazer must do the work of a coat because she simply does not have time to be bothered with a trench. She must stay loose, limber. Warren likes bracelet sleeves, which end several inches above her wrists, but she typically does not wear a bracelet or even a watch. If her jacket sleeves are not cropped, then they are folded back.
On the public stage, her clothes always suggest that she is ready to get down to business, to cut to the chase.
In her own tailored, jewel-tone way, Warren has adopted the traditional aesthetic of male politicians, who signal their intention to move from abstract policy promises into frank, regular-folk talk by removing their suit jackets and rolling up their shirt sleeves. Men most often perform this sartorial ballet when they are standing in front of blue-collar workers, young voters or the disenfranchised. In stripping away the uniform of authority, they are telegraphing their empathy. It is old-school political code-switching.
The suit-and-tie version of Bernie Sanders makes plain his place in the establishment; it tells voters that he’s been working within the system and that there are some fundamental rules of politics to which he adheres. When he wants to make his solidarity with the common man plain — or plainer — he takes off his tie. He slips into a union jacket. He rolls up his sleeves.
Trump does not roll up his sleeves. Are you surprised? No, of course you’re not. The mogul uniform is part of his story. It’s his pitch. He does not try to sell understanding to the beleaguered as much as promise them salvation. He isn’t like you at all, he seems to say; instead, he can fix you. He can fix America.
Warren traffics in empathy, but she doesn’t need to remove her jacket to make herself understood. Her clothes are multilingual. Her polished, three-quarter-sleeve jackets, with their subtle textures and delicate seams, connect her to the rule-makers. A 2010 Vogue profile mentions her admiration for designer Isaac Mizrahi, although her actual buying habits reportedly tend to L.L. Bean. But those cropped sleeves, those bare forearms, make her look as though she could immediately dive into a messy situation without pausing to worry about her nice frock. She is the invited dinner guest who could take her own plate into the kitchen and do the dishes without missing a beat. She will get elbow-deep in Palmolive for you. She may have a fancy job, but she is not too fancy for the work.
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