WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton has moved beyond the monochromatic pantsuit and America’s stylists are letting out a deep sigh of relief. She’s wearing long jackets. Bold colors with black pants. Stand up collars. Even the occasional trench.
The former first lady, who has shifted on substantive topics like the minimum wage and trade deals, has also undergone a style metamorphosis since she last ran for president. She’s pivoted from the widely mocked ensembles of 2008 to, well, something that those who follow fashion say appears somewhat fashionable.
“There is a different formula this time around,” said Lauren A. Rothman, a Washington-based stylist and author of “Style Bible,” a book about dressing for work. “Her silhouette has changed. It is more flattering. It is more modern. . . . You may never want to dress like her but she has style.”
“The aesthetic is clean, very polished,” said Corey Roche, a Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist. “It has evolved and into a good place. When you go back to when Bill was in office she was all over the place.”
In an election that’s been unprecedented in its divisiveness, that’s pushed the political dialogue well beneath the muck and deep into the earth’s mantle, Hillary Clinton’s fashion choices have been nearly unnoticed — which seems to be what her wardrobe is designed to do.
Donald Trump isn’t tweeting about it. The press largely leaves her clothes out of the conversation.
Clinton has perhaps beaten critics to the punch line. She describes herself as a “pantsuit aficionado” in her Twitter profile and jokes about her signature look on talk shows.
But these days when Clinton’s clothes are noticed, it’s more often than not been for positive reasons. The white ensemble Clinton wore on July 28 when she accepted her party’s presidential nomination received rave reviews.
The color popped from the red and blue backdrop and the expert tailoring flattered. The color also made a historical statement, referencing the outfits worn by suffragettes who advocated for women’s right to vote.
“We don’t wear all-white in everyday life,” explained Rosana Vollmerhausen, the chief stylist and founder of DC Style Factory. “It was striking and felt special. . . . she looked radiant without being distracting.”
It’s clear that Clinton has had some help on the clothing front. Iconic Vogue editor Anna Wintour is among the most prominent names floated as stealth fashion adviser. A bevy of designers are clearly close to the campaign, including Marc Jacobs who has created T-shirts for Clinton’s online store. Fund-raisers for Clinton have been hosted by designers Eileen Fisher, Tory Burch, and Georgina Chapman.
Clinton’s campaign declined to comment for this story, as did Wintour. Washington stylists say that their high-profile clients often want their fashion advisers out of the news, and nondisclosure agreements are often used. They also believe Clinton is paying for her own clothes, rather than having designers donate pieces.
That’s because designers haven’t been taking credit for outfits the way they typically would when working for free. Pricey duds donated to Clinton as personal gifts wouldn’t need to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, but garments given as an in-kind donation to the campaign would need to be reported, according to a Federal Elections Commission spokesman.
Perhaps one reason that Clinton is avoiding some of the glare from the fashion world: She’s up against a man with a look that’s more attention-grabbing, and often not in a good way.
Donald Trump’s coiffure is more complicated than Obamacare and harder to explain. But the more subtle aspects of Trump’s attire also raise eyebrows among the fashion elite.
“He’s wearing his suits way too big,” observed Roche.
She also took issue with Trump’s long ties, a look that harks back to the 1990s: “He’s just stuck in the old times.”
There are still plenty, including the nearly all-female press corps assigned to cover her, who keep a close eye on Clinton’s campaign looks.
For the everyday looks on the campaign, Clinton is going with jackets with bold colors and interesting fabrics — even leather — with fewer single-colored suits. “She is wearing separates that go together rather than the literal matchy-matchy jacket-shell-pant combo,” said Vollmerhausen.
Another look Clinton has turned to include jackets that go three-quarters down the thigh. It’s a style popular among powerful women, said Nina McLemore, who dresses a number of top Washington women including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Some detractors, who declined to be named for fear of offending the potential next president, say it can give her a “storm trooper” appearance.
And she doesn’t always wear the style just right. “Once in a while she’ll do a knee-length grazing. For her proportions that’s too much,” said Stephany Greene, a Washington-based stylist for 25 years. “She’s gotten a lot better. Once in a while I’ll hear people complain about her look, but she’s come a long way.”
There have been some notable miscues: Clinton earned headlines in June for reportedly wearing a $12,000 Armani jacket as she gave a speech that touched on income inequality. That led to some backlash on Twitter along with unwanted tabloid attention. Spokespeople for Armani and the Clinton campaign both declined to comment.
And there’s the prison-
orange matching pantsuit she wore last August in Las Vegas when a Fox News reporter asked if she’d “wiped” her controversial personal server. Her response, which Republicans have replayed on high rotation, was to feign ignorance. “Like with a cloth or something,” she said.
The notion of nitpicking Clinton’s wardrobe may be viewed as inherently sexist, though it’s a reality many women have come to accept (those itching to complain about this story can find the reporter’s e-mail at the bottom).
But that too is changing and there’s some evidence that even the media is becoming more aware of double standards. Consider this headline that appeared in the online publication Quartz after the Democratic convention, mocking the obsession with politicians’ looks:
“Hillary Clinton’s husband wore a fetching pantsuit to honor her nomination for US president.”Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.