Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Politics of Fashion: This Ordinary Gal is Galled by Cindy McCain's RNC Bling

The politics of fashion is not an appropriate topic for Fashion After 50.com, I've decided. But I am one very ordinary gal who was galled at the ostentatious show of bling by Cindy McCain at the Republican National Convention.

Vanity Fair editors estimated that McCain's designer shirtdress ensemble on the first night would ring the cash register at an eye-popping $313,000, according to Melanie Coffee for the Associated Press.

I cannot a house that expensive -- even wit a 30-year mortgage. Remove the diamond earrings, the dress, shoes, watch, and accessories would total around $20K. Geez, I couldn't even buy a luxury car for that paltry sum.

Reporters cover the candidates' wives as if they are engaged in a fashion throw-down. Michelle Obama favors Chicago designer Maria Pinto. You'll find lots of photos of Obama in Pinto styles at The Black Snob blog. CNN commentators (Sept. 5 morning news) said the pricetag for Obama's dress for the closing night credits at the Democratic National Convention was $1,250. Have these people heard of T.J. Maxx? Beall's Outlets? I think not.

Amanda Fortini's article, "The Semiotics of Convention Fashion," suggests an intellectual treatment of the topic for
The New Republic. Fortini does not seem to fully understand the concept of semiotics. The article is packed full of fashion details, but the cultural analysis is missing.

If you want to understand the semiotics of style, read propeller.com. Real people understand how really silly spending this kind of money on fashion is, when young people are dying in strange lands, families are losing their homes in America, and the economy is in crisis.

Perhaps no writer was more incisive about the relationship between economics and culture than Roland Barthes in the landmark volume,
Myth Today (1972). Umberto Eco eviscerates American cultural pretensions in Travels in Hyperreality (1985), continuing the great tradition of the semiotics of culture from an economic perspective. Propeller readers understand this analytical approach: it is the semiotics of real life.

Most papers are hedging their bets in the fashion throwdown. The New York Post, for example, compares Cindy McCain's flashy, high-end fashion statements with the classic, easy glamor of Michelle Obama. The language allows for the styles to be evaluated as separate but equal. The United Kingdom's Guardian qualifies both as polished dressers ready to be a stylish First Lady.

Project Runway judge Tim Gunn had no trouble taking a strong position. He observes that Obama seems comfortable in her clothing and has some snarky things to say about McCain.

Even though my interest in the politics of fashion of presidental candidates' wives is recent, as early as February, Bean at alternet.org asked, "Why Are Blogs Evaluating What Political Wives Wear?" The question is, of course, essentially contradictory: discussing the question adds to the buzz about First Lady wannabe wardrobes.

There are even paper doll books that allow us to dress the senators McCain, Obama, and their wives, according to Adam Tschorn,
Los Angeles Times writer. McCain in his undies? Thanks but no thanks, I said.

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