Is Ralph Lauren Going to Be Hillary Clinton’s Dresser in Chief?


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Hillary Clinton in a navy Ralph Lauren pantsuit at the presidential debate Sunday night.


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Doug Mills/The New York Times

Has Hillary Clinton found her dresser in chief? It would appear that way.

While the Twitterverse was busy parsing the possible subtexts of Melania Trump’s decision to wear a hot pink Gucci pussy-bow blouse to watch her husband, Donald J. Trump, during the second presidential debate Sunday evening (given his recently revealed lewd comments about women from 2005), it was actually what Mrs. Clinton wore that seemed meaningful to me.

Specifically, her use of a Ralph Lauren navy wool double-faced pantsuit with a cream shawl collar and cream wool top to better frame the jovial-serenity-atop-policy-wonk approach with which she has chosen to contrast herself with Mr. Trump.

See, she also wore Ralph Lauren to the first presidential debate (a red trouser suit), to her speech accepting her party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention (an ivory suit), and to her opening campaign rally on Roosevelt Island (a periwinkle blue suit). In other words, she has worn Ralph Lauren for most of her recent major televised public appearances.

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Mrs. Clinton in a Ralph Lauren pantsuit at the first presidential debate.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

If three is a trend, as they say, four would be what? Commitment? A very clear pattern, to say the least.

This matters both because of what it means now and what it suggests about how Mrs. Clinton is using clothing to bolster her own narrative, and because of what it means for the future. After all, if she wins the election, it will be up to someone to help craft the image of the first female president of the United States. And thus far, despite the fact that a spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the relationship, evidence is beginning to build that that someone would be Mr. Lauren.

After all, during the 2008 campaign, Mrs. Clinton had no clear allegiance to any one designer. And though she has worn other designers over the many months of this campaign (including Giorgio Armani), and though during her time as secretary of state Mrs. Clinton often wore jackets from the designer Nina McLemore, the increasing choice of Mr. Lauren as the current go-to name and the ability of the clothes to flatter the candidate without calling attention to themselves make it very likely that the pattern will continue.

Certainly it would make sense, from both a historical and a professional point of view. First ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy (with Oleg Cassini) to Nancy Reagan (with Adolfo) often allied themselves with a single designer, both as a collaborator in shaping the style of the administration, and for simplicity’s sake. President Obama said in an interview with Vanity Fair during his first term in office that the fewer decisions he had to make every day, the more he could concentrate on political priorities. And one of the easiest places for anyone to reduce options is in the wardrobe. Put simply, the president has more important things to worry about than clothes. Which doesn’t mean they don’t matter.

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A Ralph Lauren pantsuit at the Democratic National Convention.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Ralph Lauren is an interesting choice for Mrs. Clinton, both aesthetically and strategically.

Mr. Lauren is, perhaps, the most ur-American of American designers: a man who built an empire on the mythology of the untrammeled West, where cowboys roamed free among herds of bison, along with a kind of “Brideshead Revisited” Anglo past. He is a man who takes his bow at the end of his show in cowboy boots and jeans, who owns a ranch with tepees so luxurious they made Oprah Winfrey green with envy when she visited. A man who dresses the United States Olympic team for the opening and closing ceremonies, and who (because he got in trouble, admittedly) is now doing so in Made-in-America stuff. A man who gave $13 million in 1998 for the restoration of the original Star-Spangled Banner. Born in the Bronx, a man who started his career as a tie salesman, he is the stereotypical American success story.

He is also Mrs. Clinton’s peer: He is in his mid-70s and will have experienced many of the same social and political upheavals that she has.

What he is not, however, is young, a hyphenate (such as Cuban-American or Asian-American), in need of the publicity, or even a very adventurous designer — all hallmarks of the choices made by the current political style-setter in the White House, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama has used her public profile to support new American names, to further disseminate the idea of the United States as a melting pot, and to otherwise expand the definition of a first lady.

(He is also not — duh — European, which sounds ridiculous but also distinguishes Mrs. Clinton from Mr. Trump, who favors Brioni suits, and whose wife, Melania, has worn the Italian label Fendi and the British label Roksanda Ilincic while supporting her husband, as well as the aforementioned Gucci.)

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A Ralph Lauren pantsuit at Mrs. Clinton’s opening campaign rally in 2015.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

And though it seems Mr. Lauren is the establishment choice, given both his dominant position in the fashion world and the noncontroversial politesse of his clothes — which could be construed as a bad choice for Mrs. Clinton, given the clear desire on the part of so much of the electorate to upend the Washington establishment — he has, in fact, never been much of a White House presence (a black dress worn by Mrs. Obama to a British state dinner aside). That honor often went to Oscar de la Renta, who died in 2014 but who had dressed first ladies from Mrs. Kennedy to Laura Bush during his career.

A Clinton-Lauren collaboration would have, indubitably, elegant results. She would look, if she does become president, always appropriate. Odds are that the pantsuits would continue but that they would be slightly more tailored than they have been, a bit less like coat-dresses, a little softer. Together, they would not foment sartorial revolution, or shatter the Angela Merkel mold of dressing, or change the parameters of what it means to look like a president.

That’s probably no bad thing, since the next holder of the executive office will have other eggs to break, and there’s no reason to waste political capital on clothes. As a woman, though, I can’t help but wish that something a little more radical may happen so that the feminization of power could be clear for all to see, whether they are listening to a speech or just looking at Instagram. And maybe, if Mrs. Clinton is elected, she will decide to cast her sartorial net widely, and experiment. You never know.

But either way, if Mrs. Clinton does become president, whoever dresses her will be designing the look of history. That, at least, we know for sure.

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