Whenever I go to Nieman Marcus (how’s that for an attention grabber?) I always have the same thought: Where’s the EXIT? No offense to Nieman’s, but stores that have minimalist displays with one or two tasteful-but-shockingly-expensive items displayed like religious icons scare the heck out of me. Bring on the mad crush of Macy’s sales racks!
I thought of my last visit to NM — somehow I wound up in Mazza Gallerie trying to find the ladies room — when the news broke yesterday about Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe purchased courtesy of the Republican National Committee. A hefty portion of that amount enriched the Nieman coffers, with smaller shares going to Saks and other high-end marketers of couture. Howls from the Democratic side say all the predictable things about outrageous excess in these bad economic times; no need for me to repeat the obvious! But there is also outrage on the Republican side, since sensible people — and donors to the campaigns — know that spending that much on clothes in two months is imprudent at best. The only people who seem to be defending the shopping spree are the sylists and designers who stand to profit.
Politics aside, however, I am utterly fascinated by this news for what it reveals about the cultural dimensions and differences in American life. We all know people who love to shop, and for whom fashion is extremely important, and most of us who think of a good fashion day as having matching socks are secretly envious of those who learned how to accessorize properly. I’m not sure that I would even know how to spend $150,000 on clothing, but I know people who probably would be happy to help me get over that gap in my education.
More seriously, however, the Palin wardrobe flap now illustrates, once again, the remarkably different standards for women and men in the public eye. Apparently those who make decisions for candidates deemed that a do-over was necessary for Palin to be a credible candidate. Certainly, she’s not the first woman to face this ugly truth, that does not seem to afflict male candidates (who may upgrade their dark blue suits from off-the-rack to bespoke, but they still are wearing dark blue suits!). We all watched Hillary Clinton’s continous fashion struggles. Nancy Pelosi, inherently elegant, wears fashion as a habit, not a political choice. Labels like St. Johns make a small fortune in the closets of women in Congress or executive suites. But for most of these women, the fashion choices are also supported by their own money — not the donated funds of campaign committees.
The other problem with this whole episode is that it fuels the now-raging fire over whether Palin is using sexuality — or being used — for political gain. It’s a fascinating issue that will surely be the topic of much deconstruction in future analyses of this campaign.
Now, back to that $150,000…. Perhaps the RNC could donate an equal amount to the Calvary shelter or My Sister’s Place or Mary’s Center or any of the other wonderful nonprofits that are worried that the recession is going to impact their ability to meet all of the need among the women and children they serve.