The Fashion Whip: Fake Tans and Fake Tips

Fashion Whip is a political style column in the Huffington Post by fashion stylist Lauren Rothman and HuffPost reporter Christina Wilkie inspired by Lauren’s experience at Styleauteur, the firm she founded.

WASHINGTON — Prepping for the cameras at a primetime presidential debate requires a lot more of a politician than a quick appearance on C-SPAN does. The candidates are each under a microscope: every stray hair is noticed and every lash counted and curled.

For some, dark under-eye circles are left free of makeup to serve as a sign of how hard they toil for their constituents. For others, gray hairs are carefully cultivated in order to convey experience. Even so, none of the candidates can afford to have “Mr. Magoo” eyebrows or dirty fingernails, lest the public be distracted from the issues — and the candidate noticed in the wrong way.

Men in a presidential race historically tend to go gray faster than men in a congressional race do. Much, much faster, if you know what we mean. After all, a touch of silver makes a man look distinguished, and delicately applied hair mascara helps to blend the new salt with the pepper. Not surprisingly, it takes full-time stylists hours with high-end products to “balance the light just right” on male candidates (a preferred euphemism for hair and makeup). For instance, Rick Perry’s stylist “balances the light” using mousse, a blow-dryer, freeze-hold hair spray, heavy powder, bronzer and eyebrow gel.

Women face different challenges: Michele Bachmann’s blowout is voluminous, but her stylist is careful to avoid a “helmet head” look — which is more than we can say for team Romney. And Bachmann’s hair color appears to change with the season (lighter for summer, darker for winter), which keeps her on-trend, if not exactly authentic.

But while Bachmann’s soft, highlighted locks help her to look youthful and natural, her nails tell a different story. Squared-off at the tip, her high-gloss french manicure never varies at all, and acrylic extensions help her to achieve lengths that are visible even from the nosebleed section. We’ve even heard them clickety-clacking against her debate podiums a few times, which means the rest of America heard it, too — even if they were unaware of where the noise was coming from.

Situated in-between Bachmann’s au naturel hairstyle and her oh-so-fake nail manicure is her makeup, which strikes a balance between the two competing elements. Bachmann’s makeup artist, Tamara Robinson, is a former Fox News favorite, and Bachmann’s face reflects Robinson’s reputation for contrasting soft lips with dramatic eyes. Another Robinson signature is her liberal use of false eyelashes, which our HuffPost Style colleagues explored in a fun slideshow this summer.

On Capitol Hill, two members of Congress appear to be taking cues from Bachmann’s hair and makeup look: Freshman Republicans Kristi Noem (S.D.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.). But outside the pressure-cooker of a campaign, Herrera Buetler and Noem are free to keep their look more low-key. On Capitol Hill, you’re likely to find that members of Congress look like pretty average D.C. professionals — not the bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked figures they morph into during campaign season. After all, they still need to look normal at committee meetings and constituent teas.

It’s easy to see how Bachmann’s fluttery false eyelashes would look ridiculous in the hallowed halls of Rayburn or Dirksen. But they aren’t the only grooming aid that comes out of the closet around election time.

Fake tans glow like orangey bulbs on the campaign trail — inviting voters to visualize the candidate’s charmed life. In the current GOP presidential field, some tans are a lot deeper than others. Think “occasional golfer” vs. “professional surfer.”