The style race between Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain this campaign cycle was as hotly contested as the presidency, with fashionistas and talking heads endlessly analyzing the subtext of their looks. So who won the fashion election?
Palin was as much 2008's stylistic wild card as its political one. For every man who loved her coquettish sexuality (red peep-toe pumps, clingy pencil skirts), there was a female critic slamming her clothes as blandly middlebrow and gal-next-door generic. Palin's half-up mop and rimless glasses meant to evoke harried hockey mom, but ended up (when coupled with that wink) exuding a secretary-in-a-porno air. When Palin plays out her next tour on the national stage—and there will inevitably be one—she should ditch the suburban vibe and go high-powered seductress: Versace suits, Louboutin heels. The voters will forget how much she's spending on the threads because she'll look so damn good.
Need proof? McCain hardly caused a stir when she wore $300,000 worth of Oscar de la Renta and diamonds to the Republican National Convention. That's because she's embraced her rich political wife image and pulls it off with aplomb. McCain's high-end suits were impeccable symbols of power and discipline—her wardrobe signaled that she was ready from day one for the world stage.
But Obama swept the race with her elegant simplicity. Her style evoked Jackie in Camelot (A-line dresses, flipped bobs) while incorporating modern colors (lime, purple) and accessories like wide belts and big costume pearls. She also got props for her affordable dresses from H&M and Donna Ricco, appropriate fashion for a year when voters are fretting over the economic crisis. Obama's style said: traditional yet forward-looking. Sophisticated yet relatable. Feminine yet strong. A 21st-century woman for a 21st-century White House.