The Fashion Whip: Why Hillary Clinton’s Faux Pas Is Awesome

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 — When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed up in Bangladesh last week sans makeup or a freshly blown-out ‘do, the predictable backlash from snarky news outlets said she looked “tired and withdrawn,” to quote Fox News.

But, then, the story turned. As the so-called faux pas went viral, all sorts of people lined up in support of the incredibly hard-working secretary of state’s right not to look 100 percent made up all the time. Women spoke out to defend Clinton and other female political figures, who are expected to labor at demanding jobs and still look great in a 24-hour news cycle. In that unscripted moment, Clinton had conveyed that she had much more important things on her mind than eye liner.

When asked about the “au naturel” appearance during a later interview with CNN, Clinton herself said, “You know, at some point, [hair and makeup are] just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”

With that, Clinton transformed a critique into an asset.

The same, however, cannot be said for Ann Romney’s viral fashion faux pas only a week before Clinton’s.

In what is now widely referred to as the bird shirt incident, Romney appeared on CBS wearing a Reed Krakoff silk T-shirt with a large bird print. While the over-the-top shirt was a very odd fashion choice at any price, the $990 price tag made it seem all the more ridiculous.

Unlike Clinton’s genuine, personal decision to forgo foundation in the roasting hot Bangladeshi climate, Romney’s look was carefully scripted, as evidenced by her flawless hair and makeup. The top was worn for an interview designed to highlight the relaxed, fun side of Romney’s husband, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Ann Romney’s outfit was intended to highlight how spontaneous and unstuffy she is.

Instead, it served as an illustration of the perils of over-managing an image. The outré shirt drew so much attention that reporters immediately singled out the designer and the astronomical price tag. With that, Romney’s image management backfired. Within hours, the shirt became the story. Instead of illuminating how much fun the Romneys are, it draw unwanted attention to their wealth — a campaign sticking point that’s already big and getting bigger.

Unlike Clinton’s faux pas, which seemed to endear her to millions of women as a fellow hard-working professional, Romney’s mistake served to alienate her from average women — at least those who don’t have $990 to spend on a t-shirt.

In an image-obsessed political culture, the lesson is that smart voters can spot authenticity in their leaders and will reward it — Clinton’s stock has never been higher. Romney, meanwhile, caused one more headache for a campaign that’s desperate to downplay her husband’s money.

So when is a fashion faux pas not a faux pas? When your personal style reveals something about you that’s genuine.

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