Style Files: What Michelle Obama and Jimmy Carter can teach us about style

Fashion columnist Claire Boston on the best looks of election seasons


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As much as I love Washington, D.C., my hometown, it doesn’t quite have the distinction of being an American fashion capital. But hey, we think the fact that we have the leader of the free world living smack in the middle of our city trumps our love of drab office wear. Besides, we like to think that politicians dress better than we can. In honor of the final 30 days of what seems like the longest campaign season ever, take a look at these fashionable political moments from past and present.

Buzz surrounding politicians’ wives’ fashion choices is basically impossible to avoid, so it’s obvious that they pick convention outfits carefully. Ann Romney went classically political with a red taffeta Oscar de la Renta dress for her speech at the Republican National Convention. It was a safe choice, but the dress was cut beautifully, and its bright red hue was flattering and on-trend for fall. For those of you who are on the hunt for classic pieces to add to your wardrobe, you can’t go wrong with fit-and-flare dresses — ‘50s silhouettes are flattering on just about every body type.

It’s only fair to give Michelle Obama a nod for completely nailing first lady style for the past four years. Her choice of a pink convention dress was unusual (unwritten laws seem to require red or blue), but she looked fantastic, as usual. Her usual wardrobe of pretty printed dresses and colorful separates make her look polished but not dowdy, and her ability to rock sleeveless dresses is a great primer in dressing to play up your best features. Despite the fact that the media seems to still not be done obsessing over her toned arms, Obama’s style only serves as a reminder that fashion rules are meant to be broken.

Michelle Obama may be a consistent fashion icon in politics today, but Jackie Kennedy easily captured the title of most fashionable first lady in history. Back in the ‘60s, she was rocking the large wraparound sunglasses that we still love today, and her love of pencil skirts and fitted jackets revolutionized women’s fashion during a time when fuller skirts and longer hemlines were the norm. Although you might not have the influence of a first lady, it never hurts to be a trendsetter. And if you prefer to simply follow trends, keep rocking those oversized sunglasses —- they’ll never go out of style.

Jumping forward a few administrations, Madeleine Albright was the queen of accessorizing during her tenure as secretary of state under the Clinton administration. Known particularly for her costume brooch collection, Albright garnered particular attention for choosing brooches based on her mood and current negotiation partners. Wearing a serpent piece when working with Saddam Hussein wasn’t exactly subtle, but certainly delivered the message that she was ready for business. Brooches probably aren’t your idea of the hottest accessory, so instead of copying Albright directly, simply try to have fun with your favorite accessories —- see if you can even incorporate them in businesslike outfit for a bit of flair that will give you confidence.

It’s harder to come up with fashionable male politicians because let’s be honest: it’s hard to do anything interesting to a suit. But if we take a look at one of the few fashionable moments of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter really was the master of the grandpa sweater. After publicly announcing that he was turning down the White House’s heat during the energy crisis, he was spotted donning oversized cardigans in place of suit jackets. Males take note: as much as girls may wish you ran around in suits 24/7, we know it’s not going to happen. Sweaters will make you look like you tried more than the average guy on campus, but they aren’t weirdly formal. Ladies, you can borrow from Jimmy by ducking into the men’s section the next time you’re looking to stock up on cardigans. The oversize cuts look great over more fitted basics, and I promise you’ll be beyond comfy.

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