Since we've decided that we are not going to discuss the issues in the US elections, I have been looking for a way of talking about fashion and politics which doesn't demean the candidates and their wives/husbands with spiteful tabloid finger-pointing.
But Sarah Mower in the Telegraph today has a superb piece which gets to the root of why women women politicians look fantastic and others do don't and I really do recommend reading the whole thing:
But I'd like to add a note of caution to Mower's account. I think she may well be right about feminism worrying that dressing well might interfere with their gravitas, or not having the time to shop or money ofr a stylist. With the exception of Sarah Palin, these are all candidates wives. The top row, and the bottom row of British politicians, is notable for the fact that the Americans are reed slim while the Brits are, um a little dumpy. The question is, can these women dress very well given their body shape and on their MP's salaries? The British fashion industry could come to the rescue and dress them, but does Vivienne Westwood a) make anything suitable b) make anything in size 16 (that's a US 12.)
Looking at the women at political party conventions in America is riveting. Michelle Obama looks brilliant in her fitted dresses by the American designer Maria Pinto, with expertly placed Erickson Beamon flower brooches. Cindy McCain and Jill Biden win admiration for their non-prissy blonde grooming and efficient separates. Even the creationist Sarah Palin can't be accused of turning up from Alaska and looking like a moose - whatever we think of her views.
Powerdressing (top, from left): Republicans Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain, Democrats Jill Biden and Michelle Obama. Power underdressing (above, from left): Labour ladies Tessa Jowell, Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman
This all amounts to a world first, I think. It is the first collective image of modern, middle-aged, powerful females whose attractiveness requires no clarification. They are not, for example, "fabulous… for their age" or "OK… for a politician". These women are fabulous fabulous. Full stop.
Why? It's no coincidence that they are the first cohort that does not regard fashion as a threat to their gravitas. Hillary Clinton and her "sisterhood of travelling pant suits" did, which led to her very publicly ducking out of an American Vogue feature during her campaign - a move that did nothing for her dignity. Their old school, atavistic feminist fear is that associating with fashion is a vote loser, but it is fast looking like the mark of the political yester-woman. In America, at any rate, the influence of fashion and the industry behind it are being taken seriously by the new generation of politicians.
Next Tuesday, during New York Fashion Week, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, will co-host an Obama fundraiser - her second this year - with Sarah Jessica Parker. It's a fashion show at which guests paying $10,000 a ticket will get to preview the work of Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler. The first event, which was attended by Mrs Obama in June, had a two-tier ticket structure: $1,000 to attend a reception, or $10,000 to chat to the senator's wife over an intimate lunch at Calvin Klein's place. Clearly the Obama campaign sees no danger in being associated with glamorous achievers in the fashion industry, even now that the last run to the White House is in sight.
But would it happen here? The nearest British politicians have come to tapping the influence - and cash - of fashion industry figures was the Conservatives' Black and White Ball in February, which was creatively directed by Anya Hindmarch, and attended by Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo, Nadja Swarovski, Amanda Wakeley, Joseph Ettedgui and Belle Robinson of Jigsaw. Still, the £300-a-head admission looks like a junior jape compared with the American money Ms Wintour pulls in.