Why It Matters That Hillary Clinton Wore Ralph Lauren


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Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a pantsuit from the Ralph Lauren Women’s Collection.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

At her campaign opening rally on Roosevelt Island on Saturday (to be distinguished from her campaign announcement, in April), Hillary Rodham Clinton donned her now-signature look: a bright blue pantsuit with a matching bright blue shirt underneath. She stuck out a mile, matched her H campaign logo — which was also the design of her stage — and looked appropriately patriotic, especially when standing next to Bill Clinton in his red polo.

So far, so expected, especially given her debut Instagram post: a series of red, white or blue pantsuits hanging in a row with the caption “Hard choices.”

Mrs. Clinton has been extremely clever at co-opting the whole fashion-in-politics thing, defanging it and using it to demonstrate her quite developed sense of humor. It’s a tool for her these days, and not just when it comes to image.

Which is why it is worth thinking about. She is clearly considering it, as are her advisers, and using it to manipulate perception. As are all her competitors. Clothes are a political tool like any other. And that is why it was interesting to learn that the pantsuit she wore at her Roosevelt Island rally had been made by Ralph Lauren.

On the one hand, this is a clever choice: Mrs. Clinton’s de facto dresser for the last few years had been Oscar de la Renta, and his death in October left her without a go-to label. She has known Mr. Lauren for a while: She presented him with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal last June for his $13 million donation to help restore the Betsy Ross flag, and wore another blue Ralph Lauren pantsuit to do so.

And his personal narrative — Bronx boy made good — pretty much embodies the American dream. The clothes he sells are, in part, based on the aesthetics of that dream: the West, and the Gatsby version of Long Island. He understands sartorial stagecraft as well as any designer on the New York Fashion Week calendar, if not better.

Yet there’s a possible weak spot in the relationship. Because for a candidate who has been pushing her connection to, and understanding of, the middle class — and whose speech while wearing the pantsuit was largely about closing the income gap — Ralph Lauren is a relatively inaccessible brand. It is also one often worn by and beloved of that sector of the population, the chief executives and financial wizards, she somewhat disavowed.

An average Ralph Lauren Women’s Collection pantsuit, which this was — not, in other words, a style from the more accessible line, Lauren Ralph Lauren — is a few thousand dollars (a pinstriped wool jacket alone, for example, is $2,450 at the online store). That is out of reach for most voters.

It might not matter, given that voters also want their candidates to look presidential, which generally means good. Except that one of the story lines surrounding Mrs. Clinton has been how she is out-of-touch with those she claims to represent. It seems to me that working with a famous and high-end designer could provide ammunition for the opposition. And why even take that chance?

But maybe the fashion issue, with its potential sexism charges, is just too touchy for anyone, except fashion people like me, to go there.

Personally, if I were working out sartorial strategy on her team, I might suggest the issue be avoided entirely by opting for a contemporary label like Theory, which is known for its pantsuits, professional dressing — and anonymity. Its chief executive, Andrew Rosen, is a fashion mogul who has made something of a personal mission out of saving the New York garment district.

But that’s me. And to be honest, I would not be surprised if, in the end, Ralph Lauren does become a Clinton wardrobe mainstay. If the campaign can avoid elitism charges, the brand will make her look confident, and absolutely convincing on the global stage.

According to a spokesman, the designer already works with the candidate “regularly.”



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