Sarah Palin returned to center stage of a presidential campaign yesterday — a few years older but still wearing her signature rimless eyeglasses. Her auburn hair is bouncier. And her keen ability to capture the spotlight is not at all diminished. The former Alaska governor was in Ames, Iowa, to endorse GOP front-runner Donald Trump. She did so wearing a black pencil skirt topped off with a mini-black cardigan studded with what resembled needle-thin, glistening stalactites. On television, as all that black blurred together, she looked a bit like she was wearing a bedazzled choir robe. She even shouted out for a "Hallelujah!"
As Palin stood behind the lectern firing up the crowd, she happily told them to "look back there in the press box. Heads are spinning, media heads are spinning. This is going to be so much fun." She expressed great delight in hearing the audience roar its approval. During it all, the cardigan shimmered glamorously under the lights. In her lengthy address, she showered extra love on Iowa farm families, cops, cooks, Teamsters, as well as "you rockin' rollers. And holy rollers!"
One couldn't help but wonder if her ensemble had been inspired by those last two categories.
The entire speech — constructed in Palin's particular syntax — was filled with demands for attention as she picked at the wounds of her 2008 campaign. But nothing cried out louder than her choice of attire. The fashion industry may have long argued that spangles are not just for the cocktail hour and beyond, but that philosophy has made little headway in the world of campaign politics. So to see a politician — someone who is ostensibly not the star of the rally but a supporting player — dressed in such a bold manner, was to see someone who has come to steal the spotlight rather than share it.
Palin's cardigan was not ugly — not exactly, not terribly — but it was distracting. It took one's attention away from her actual speech — which pinballed from aggrievement to sarcasm, from anger to mockery, from going rogue to "drill baby, drill" — and diverted it to Palin herself. To her image. To her televised glory. Instead of listening to her, one tended to just look at her. What is she wearing? One tended to look at her even as candidate Trump stood off to the side gesturing, making faces and otherwise attempting to own at least his little corner of the stage.
The cardigan was flashy. It was proudly outside the realm of vetted political attire. It wasn't safe and it wasn't decorous.
It was vaguely gaudy, with a hint of kitsch. And for a political affair it was inappropriate — which in the politically disruptive universe of Palin, made it perfect.
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