June 27 ē 04:51 AM

Malfunction over candidate's wardrobe

October 29, 2008
There's been a lot of talk this week about Sarah Palin's wardrobe bill.

It's a whopper, I'll admit. It would take me more years than I care to think about to earn the reported $150,000 price tag for the vice presidential candidate's clothes, hair and makeup.

The talking heads are having a field day with it because the clothes come from Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and Palin has characterized herself more than once as an "ordinary hockey mom" and "Joe Six-Pack."

Some feel that the wardrobe bill—which was footed by the Republican National Committee—doesn't jibe with that folksy, every-day-(plumber)-Joe image Palin publicly embraces.

I'll admit that there's a bit of a discrepancy there at first glance. But it's a first glance, puffed up discrepancy at best.

C'mon, folks. Palin's running for the second highest office in the United States. Do we really expect her to show up at rallies in sweatpants and a baseball cap?

And regardless of how she characterizes herself, Sarah Palin is not an "average hockey mom," she hasn't been for quite some time. Those days were over when she stepped into her current job as governor of Alaska. I am quite certain that during her campaign for and in her daily duties on the job she didn't show up to work in overalls and a flannel shirt. I am quite certain that Ms. Palin took care with her appearance—probably more care than necessary but that's required when a woman is involved in a typically male arena. It's also mandatory in a high profile job where a big part of it is meeting people, being out in public, making impressions and encountering strangers. This goes for men and women alike.

How seriously would anyone take Sarah Palin—or Barack Obama or John McCain for that matter—if they hit the campaign trail in jeans and a sweatshirt? These people know that there are cameras trained on them at all times and in a world where "image is everything" they're paying attention.

No, we're not interested in a dress-up doll for the White House but we are obsessed with looks and appearances. And in this particular situation appearances do count. I know the line on proper attire has been exceedingly blurred these days but let's be real here: She's a vice presidential candidate right now, not a hockey mom.

This hubbub about the wardrobe bill confounds me a little bit. While I'd be hard pressed even if I won the lottery to spend $150,000 on clothes, it's not because I don't like fine, well-fitted attire. It's because I don't need it. Now let me loose at a jewelry counter or in an art store and the $150,000 wouldn't be nearly enough. And that's stuff I don't need either.

So, what's the big deal about Palin's wardrobe purchases? She didn't pick up the ticket on her not-so-hockey-momish-governor's salary anyhow. Her handlers did that and it's their money. A RNC spokesperson actually had to defend the whole issue saying that it was their intention all along that "the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign." Whatever. It's really none of our business—unless you donated to the RNC and are peeved about the use of the funds. The $700,000 billion economic bailout, on the other hand, is our business and is, in my opinion, more important that what a vice presidential candidate is wearing. I believe we wouldn't be having this discussion if a female weren't involved.

Which leads to the question: What does, exactly, the average "hockey mom" look like? What if the average hockey mom were the hottest chick on the planet? How outraged would everyone be if the "average hockey mom" running for vice president showed up at the national convention in a mini-skirt, fishnets and thigh-high boots?

The point is regardless of what Palin is wearing the obsession about it is sexist and somewhat ridiculous. Her wardrobe has nothing to do with her qualifications but everything to do with her image, which ironically is being set up to influence people's beliefs about her qualifications. It's sociology 101.

It's also sociology 101 that we're only having this discussion because by accident of birth or chromosomes or DNA or God's will or whatever definition fits for you—Palin's appearance is something she has to address and maintain simply because she's a woman—hockey mom or not.

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