Fordham Law


Sarah Palin's $150,000 clothing spree turns heads left and right

Susan Scafidi in USA Today, October 27, 2008

Media Source

Sarah Palin's $150,000 clothing spree turns heads left and right

By Olivia Barker, USA TODAY
The total bill might make Joe Six-Pack spew his brew, but to image experts, the $150,000 that the Republican National Committee has spent on wardrobing Sarah Palin and her family since she was tapped as the GOP's vice presidential candidate isn't shocking — in fact, it's arguably necessary.
"When you think about costumes for literally every day of the week, for a couple-month period, it's not outrageous," says Susan Scafidi, who teaches fashion law at Fordham Law School. As long as the outfits are worn for campaigning only and not for personal use, it's a "perfectly legal" item on the RNC budget, Scafidi says. (The clothing is destined for charity post-election, according to the McCain campaign.)

What is shocking, Scafidi says, is the context. "When you see that number in the middle of a credit crunch" and consider the irony of "spending enormous amounts to reach ordinary people" for whom $150,000 is probably more than a year's salary, the spree is "a political disaster."

The expense "doesn't seem frivolous to me," says Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys, a stop on Palin's shopping trip. (The tally at the company's New York store: $789.72, according to Politico, which broke the story.) In her role, "you don't have to be high fashion, but you have to be elegantly dressed. "

Dressing to impress costs an arm and a well-tailored pantleg, says Amy Tara Koch, who analyzes the art of power dressing on her Inc. blog. Barack Obama, for instance, has a hankering for Hart Schaffner Marx suits, which go for $1,500 in department stores. "If you're in the position of handling the economy" — a top task for next term — "you should always overdress," she says. "You really need to reflect seriousness of task at hand."

And until recently, Palin wasn't impressing, Koch says. "She was a badly coiffed deer in the headlights. She looked like she was straight out of a LensCrafters ad. She did not look like a power player. She looked very peripheral." Now "she looks more acceptable."

But looking polished, professional and even vice presidential doesn't require a college tuition budget, counters Scafidi. "There's a JC Penney in almost every mall in every small town in the 'real America' as (Palin) puts it. So why did she have to leave it? At least it would have been image-consistent. "