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Year in Fashion: Election Chic

Political figures took the fashion spotlight.

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Sarah Palin

Photo By Getty Images

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Year In Fashion issue 12/15/2008
Celebrity obsession took a major turn in 2008. The year’s favorite fascinations were neither sinewy screen goddesses nor size-two ingenues. Rather they hailed from the endless, and endlessly captivating, presidential campaign: the hyper-telegenic First Family-to-be, the Republican vice-presidential candidate and her comedic doppelgänger.

Brandishing the promise of change and the battle cry of “Yes, we can,” the charismatic Barack Obama had the fashion industry from hello. Early on, the very promise of a President Obama turned designers and industry execs as starry-eyed as teenagers in love, a devotion that continues to swell in anticipation of the Inauguration. Of course, in this age of 24-7 visual media, style is integral to substance. So while much of the excitement focuses on the President-elect’s policies, there is no small level of interest regarding his style with a capital S, inclusive of the erudition, the calm, the professorial confidence, the Internet savvy and, of course, the visual imagery. With his Ultra Brite smile and male-model way with made-in-America Hart Schaffner Marx, Michelle Obama’s always-proper, not-always-understated chic and the two most beguiling minors to take up residence in the White House since 1961 (not to mention the puppy chatter), no central-casting machine could have done a better job. And it’s not only the fashion world that’s riveted on the Obama style, but the entire country and, indeed, the world, as pundits and civilians alike dissect every nuance, from the marital fist bump to Michelle’s visually explosive, election-night Narciso Rodriguez sheath. We know about her favorite Chicago designer, Maria Pinto; a favorite store, Ikram (She shops! She pays!); her style-at-a-price proclivities (J. Crew, Donna Ricco); the way she transforms a strand of pearls from classic to modern. At WWD, we know the insatiable obsession firsthand. This paper has covered first ladies’ fashions since the Wilson administration, including publishing speculative sketches prior to all recent inaugurations. This month’s feature on Michelle Obama drew an unprecedented reaction, leading us to expect similar mayhem in response to today’s Barack Obama feature.

Oh, but this is a land of glorious diversity. Enter Sarah Palin, who burst into the national psyche guns ablazing (figuratively, of course — a moose corpse or two notwithstanding) on the strength of her star-making speech at the Republican National Convention, complete with an Everywoman glam updo, rimless glasses and a hockey mom-pitbull analogy. Almost immediately she became a sensation-cum-curiosity, a dual-edged distinction solidified the next weekend when Tina Fey returned to “Saturday Night Live” with an impersonation for the ages. But Palin’s early folk-hero status didn’t last long. As she struggled through unscripted interviews, she took a hit in the polls, and many one-time supporters started to view her as a liability to John McCain’s presidential bid. Contributing to her undoing: the news that the Republican National Committee had paid upwards of $150,000 at stores including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue to ensure that this Alaskan mother of five was properly turned out for the campaign circuit. The news proved devastating, for the moment at least. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s take aside, Americans love a second act. A full two months before President-elect Obama took office, Republican strategists were already floating Palin as a possibility for a 2012 presidential run.
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