Hillary Clinton showed up in my Facebook feed the other day. Apparently she had spent $12,495 on an Armani jacket, which she was wearing when she gave a speech on income inequality.
It’s more of a coat than a jacket: three-quarter sleeves, a round collarless neck, and cut straight – almost but not quite sack-like. The tweedy fabric is edged with a darker dusty pink. It’s a classic older-woman garment, comfortable and stylish, and it looks good on her. As it should, given the price quoted in the New York Post – a Murdoch newspaper not entirely sympathetic to the US Democratic Party.
The newspaper story was taken up by supporters of Bernie Sanders, including at least one old friend of mine (not, by the way, an American). To them, it demonstrated the hypocrisy of Clinton’s campaign with its Hollywood-style glitz, and the hollowness of her rhetoric about poverty. By contrast, Bernie – who appears in public in comfortably creased suit and shirt – thereby shows off the authenticity of his political principles and the relative frugality of his personal life.
I got on line. One thing that emerged pretty quickly was that the newspaper had quoted what may have been the original price for the jacket, but it’s currently on sale at $7500. Still fiendishly expensive, but less so.
Another thing that became clear was the complex arrangements underlying the supply of clothing worn by women such as Clinton or Michelle Obama. A designer may offer an evening dress, for example, on the understanding that it will eventually be given to a museum. Women in public life may have friends in the fashion industry who supply them with clothes at cost price. The price tag on the garment may or may not represent the deal by which that jacket gets to be worn. It’s not unlike the red-carpet outfits of actors – worn once, with diamonds borrowed for the evening and handed back that night to the security guards who watch throughout the event.
How does Clinton manage to maintain that immaculate lipstick, the carefully casual hair (never ever blown out of place), the sophisticated combinations of colour and style in her clothing? If I was to attempt such high-level grooming, it would take me several hours to get out of the house, quite apart from the impact on the family finances. Clinton has not got several hours a day to spend with hairdresser, make-up artist and wardrobe assistant.
I imagine her at six in the morning, newspapers, phone and laptop to hand, getting down to business, while one person silently fixes her hair, another irons a couple of identical blouses (a spare in case of accidents) and polishes a pair of shoes one more time, and a third checks her itinerary and suggests a change of clothing in the evening, given a ten-minute window of opportunity at 6.15 pm. She’s on the phone throughout.
Meanwhile Bernie Sanders tumbles out of bed, examines yesterday’s suit, decides it’ll go one more day, and gets dressed. Reminds his wife apologetically that he’s going to need more clean shirts tomorrow, and heads off for the day’s business. He forgot to look in the mirror and his hair’s all over the place. Decides later in the day that the weather’s a bit warm and he’d rather take the jacket off altogether. Doesn’t matter. Everybody loves Bernie. Scruffiness is all part of the image, which is nice, because it comes naturally.
At this moment in time, it might just be possible for a woman in her late 60s, campaigning for high political office in the USA, to turn up to a major event in a cheap, crumpled suit and no make-up and still be treated with respect. I don’t think Hillary Clinton could get away with it, however; the New York Post would have her on its front page the next day with a derisive headline referring to her age and her inability to cope with the stresses of the campaign. And as for taking that jacket off… horrors! Forget it.
My old friend and I are conducting an email debate on the matter. I have triumphed over a couple of minor inaccuracies, including the likely cost of the jacket, and he has stuck to his guns re the ethics of Bernie Sanders compared to Clintons past and present. I’m left with a few things going on in my mind that don’t quite seem to be part of our debate.
Clinton’s error, it seems to me, is not to do with female narcissism and extravagance. It’s to do with not paying attention to her clothing and its PR implications. Maybe she’s been too concerned with the little matters of opposing the Republicans and their anointed candidate along with gaining the Democratic nomination? She should have briefed her team right at the beginning: ‘Make sure I’m wearing American designers, and try and keep the price down.’ It would make more sense to buy a cheaper jacket that doesn’t fit perfectly and have it quietly adjusted overnight by a professional tailor, than to be seen wearing expensive Italian numbers – even if the tailored cheapie ends up costing more than Armani.
And the other thing is – and I realise this line of thought is deeply retrograde – wouldn’t it be lovely to get one’s hands on that jacket and see how it was made? What does the fabric feel like? Is it lined with silk, and if so what colour and weight? That dusty dark pink edging: is that wool, or silk, or something else? Was the jacket machine-sewn throughout or is there hand work involved? Is there padding in the shoulders? The front fastenings are hidden: buttons, poppers, hooks and eyes? Zips?
All my questions are answered on line. Clinton’s jacket is out there on the Armani website. It’s made ‘of multi-coloured napa lambskin cut into strips and woven on the loom with contrasting silk thread, bonded to technical tulle’. Napa lambskin is a very soft leather. Tulle is the stiff netting used in a ballerina’s tutu – and presumably technical tulle is similar, but designed to be used as a backing for potentially unstable materials? The fastening is a press stud – or popper if you grew up in the UK. The jacket isn’t lined.
In other words, I am not going to find a metre or so of this astonishing fabric in the local remnant shops any time soon. Perhaps one day the jacket will go on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so that a few obsessives like me get to peer closely and speculate about seam finishings and pocket linings? I’d like a close-up of the weave: leather and silk, wow.
As I said to my friend in the course of our argument: I’m not campaigning for Hillary vs Bernie or vice versa. I just want to see a bit of a level playing field when a woman is out there in public life. I’m tired of seeing powerful women mocked because their clothes can be described as scruffy (meaning, not meeting Hollywood standards of glamour) or because their clothes are too expensive or too cheap, or because their taste in clothing is working-class, or inappropriately glamorous, or dowdy and ageing, or because a garment is too loose or too tight – while their male peers are adored just for ‘being themselves’. Time to move on.
And I am also not demanding Armani jackets for all. But I can’t help liking the fact that such gorgeous techniques of weaving and tailoring exist out there. I don’t condone $12,000 jackets or even $7500 jackets. I don’t even want to wear one. I’d just like to get my hands on one, briefly, and see how it was made.