The Democratic and Republican conventions differ in substance, but they create a similar spectacle. In studying the clothing and staging of the 2016 conventions and the candidates, humorist and fashion observer Simon Doonan says we must ask, “what are these people doing in order to manage our perceptions about them? They are carefully orchestrating their appearance.”
How much is a political convention about the message or the messaging?
The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is underway, and while its content differs from last week’s GOP convention, it has a lot in common with its rival in terms of attention paid to styling.
Last year he wrote a hilarious article for Slate in which he photoshopped fashion brands onto presidential candidates that he felt reflected their characters. For example, he clad Hillary Clinton in Gareth Pugh’s Goth empress gown, on the grounds that “nothing would communicate her take-no-prisoners attitude better.”
So DnA went back to him to opine on this year’s conventions and the candidates’ clothing. Read on for some of his pithy comments, or listen to the interview above.
On the Staging of Political Conventions
(The political convention) is its own genre. The sets look a like a car show at the Javits Center in New York or something like that; they definitely have the feel of a big commercial presentation like you get for the launch of a new web company. Lots of shiny services, flashing lights, oodles of balloons.
On Hillary Clinton’s Attire
Women (aiming for high office like head of state) have to look interesting, pleasant, engaged but not too vain. They can’t look like a wicked stepmother; they have to look warm and maternal but also highly competent, so the agenda for Hillary is infinitely more complex (than for a man) where she has to incorporate all these things in one fell pantsuit. I think she tries to look fresh, optimistic; the colors are good.
On Male Politicians’ Attire
You know a man just has to look nondescript and wear a nice dark blue suit that fits and a red tie and a white shirt and he’s done.
On Donald Trump’s Very Long Jackets with Long Sleeves and Long Ties
It’s the right thing to do because if a man wears a fitted jacket with slightly shorter sleeves and a French cuff and cufflinks he automatically looks like a dandy; there’s too much peacocking going on. Donald Trump dresses like one of the detectives on The Wire.
On Trump’s Wife and Daughters
In the Trump situation it’s all on the Trump ladies. It’s like ballroom dancing. You know, they say the man is the frame and the lady is the picture. I think that is definitely the case in the Trump camp because there’s a lot of female glamour that is eclipsing any interest in anything he’s wearing.
On Melania’s Dresses Worn Onstage at the Conventions
Sleeve detail is her thing, isn’t it? Because on both dresses there was some noteworthy sleeve structure. You know she doesn’t try and look mumsy in order to be appealing.
On Why Style Matters
You have to look at it through the lens of, what are these people doing in order to manage our perceptions about them? They are carefully orchestrating their appearance. So, for example, the Trump ladies look glamorous but they weren’t dripping in jewelry. I didn’t see anyone trailing a fur coat on stage. It’s a complex dance between the electorate and the politicians where the politicians are trying to communicate with us. So it’s up to us to decode what they’re saying — and wearing. That’s what makes it profound.