Friday, March 11, 2011

Art & Culture: Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion by Robb Young

If we forgot about the idea of power dressing for a while, we were reminded in 2008 when Sarah Palin erupted onto the American political scene so nattily turned out, voters were for a moment so swayed by the power of her fashion statements, they didn’t bother listening to the nonsense she was spewing. Fortunately for everyone, there was enough time between said eruption and the election that at least some of those doing the voting had gotten control of their senses. But, oh! Those smart skirts! Those glasses! Will the culture ever be the same?

Palin gets some play in Power Dressing (Merrell), but not too much. We’re shown a couple of pre-presidential race makeover photos and then a quintet of images you likely remember. But author fashion journalist Robb Young brings us insights we couldn’t have imagined:
Where her stylist excelled was in the subtle matching of each garment’s finer points to the newly finessed Palin image, as with an oyster Valentino jacket that had its gold buttons removed and its sleeves altered to three-quarter length, leaving a streamlined skeleton of luxurious shantung silk …. Her stylist’s on-key alterations helped to offer Middle America the vision it wanted to see, of someone who had already arrived -- instead of the political arriviste that Palin really was.
Young’s comments on Palin are typical of the clarity he brings to the entire book. Power Dressing is not a just about fashion, nor is it just about culture. It is both of those things, and so much more, looking closely at the text and sub-text shared by the public wardrobe of all of the first ladies, queens, prime ministers and women politicians we see in the news every day. In addition, Young brings us real context in the form of a significant chapter on power dressing throughout history.

In her foreword to Power Dressing, Pamela Golbin tells us that fashion “is a language -- not an oral one, of course, but a highly sophisticated and structured visual language that allows for a personal form of expression.”

Power Dressing
celebrates and illustrates this idea through a lens of international power. It’s a fascinating book. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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