New York Times
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2012
It says a lot about politics today that it was possible, during a speech by Michelle Obama that was described as “genius” for its subtlety by both David Brooks and Mark Shields, that a parallel conversation was happening online, and in real time, about her shimmering brocade dress and matching fingernails. If you were following along on Twitter, where comments reportedly reached a peak of 28,000 a minute by the end of her speech, you might wonder how many people were really listening to what she was saying.
Like it or not, this election season has shown that clothes are probably more important than words, or at least a more effective means of communication.
We have discussed the significance of Ann Romney’s Oscar de la Renta shirtdress at the Republican convention, so fairness demands an examination of Michelle Obama’s dress, by Tracy Reese. By most accounts, Obama came up the winner, in a beautifully fitted dress that was a savvy choice in the era of high-definition television.
From a distance, the dress had a shimmering effect, like wet paint in a blast of unreadable pastels, but in close-ups, viewers could practically study the pattern of the gold brocade. You could imagine a group of handlers backstage considering this choice with the calculation of Cinna in “The Hunger Games,” when he creates a gown of flames for the big-screen debut of Katniss Everdeen. They were asking the same question, anyway: What would it look like on television? The dress was sleeveless, as is Obama’s signature, playing to her message of physical fitness.
Her hair and makeup were also praised, but not her silver-blue fingernails. If you think that is being too nitpicky, try Googling “Condoleezza Rice” and “lipstick.”
Even the choice of designer sent a message. Obama has frequently worn dresses by Reese, a self-made black businesswoman, which in fashion is a rare breakthrough. Reese’s prices are also in the middle ground. While the dress Obama wore has not yet been produced, very similar styles from Reese cost $395 to $450, which fits perfectly with the Democratic pitch to the middle class. Obama’s pink pumps were from J. Crew.
Ann Romney’s dress cost $1,990.