- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

It's finally so: We've got a first lady who's willing to dress to risk making a fashion statement. No tacky headbands, silly brimmed hats or repetitive black pantsuits. We're talking curves over cleavage, red rather than blue, and Dallas over New York.
This new couture is brought to you by Michael Faircloth, a man who sounds like he's out of Restoration Comedy with a name encompassing the image. Mr. Faircloth particularly likes fair fabrics from France and dares to design with a specific woman in mind rather than straining to make the lady fit the fashion. When the woman happens to be a first lady he may be setting a trend.
The gents, who will like what they see, will have to indulge us today's discussion of why (and if they pay attention they may learn something). The inaugural gown for Laura Bush, ruby-red Chantilly lace scattered with Austrian crystals, is a departure for the first lady-elect. It has none of the sharp angles that Mr. Faircloth designed for Laura Bush's campaign suits and dresses. The gown is not so skin tight as to bear comparison with the gown Marilyn Monroe was poured into for John F. Kennedy's famous birthday party, but if the first lady fills out the curves detailed in the drawing pictured in Women's Wear Daily she will not only be fashionable, but keep pace with the pacesetters. It's plucky compared to the mousy, mouseline, lilac gown Hillary wore to the first Clinton inaugural.
Washington fashion is notoriously banal, if not downright dreary, and formal wear is no exception. Nancy Reagan was an exception, but rarely does a first lady wear a size zero to 2, and look fetching in an off one shoulder ball gown. Texas is a place where "stylish coiffure" merely means "lots of hair and not one of them out of place," and it's hardly in the avant-garde of chic. But, mercifully, Laura Bush comes to town when the waif-like emaciated gaunt look is gone, and she can enjoy being stylish. The full-bodied figure is in, not so full-figured as Laura's mother-in-law, but sensuously pleasing to the male eye.
Buttocks and breasts are back, we learn on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, giving new meaning to "boom and bust." In Brazil, the plastic surgery capital of the world, silicon replacements suddenly outnumber breast reductions among the well-carved elite, and the new curvy look even has a name. Brazilians call it "tchan," slang for "something desirable."
In Washington, where politics and fashion mix like Saudi Arabian crude and Perrier, it's refreshing to welcome a first lady who's at home with her fashion without being apple-pan-dowdy. It takes courage. The nation's capital will never blend fashion, art and commerce like New York and Los Angeles. Fashion is about sex, money and power, in the most brazen way, all those things politicians crave but must pretend to enjoy vicariously (sex) and diffidently (money) as a supplement to hard work (power). There's always enough bad taste for everyone.
You can have an Armani fashion retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, but that would never do at the National Gallery of Art. The Guggenheim catalog says that acquiring "an Armani suit has become a right [sic] of passage, a symbol of success sought or won." In Washington it would be a compelling argument for campaign-finance reform. Armani wants his fashions to suggest "a reassuring figure," but they're reassuring only to those who can afford them.
It's possible that Laura Bush can enjoy a certain freedom and flair in her clothes because she isn't bound by the feminist uniform that constricted Hillary Clinton before she finally said to heck with it and sat for that Vogue magazine shoot. Hillary's signature '60s style as the Arkansas governor's wife, which she brought remnants of to Washington, was the feed-sack granny dress with granny glasses. Feminists called fashion "the f-word" and sneered at it as a reflection of the decadent, privileged, chauvinist elite where women were prisoners of their gold-given chains and bejeweled (hand)cuffs. A feminist critic once described an exhibition of Yves St. Laurent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an "opulent, imperialistic spectacle of decadent social privilege, the aesthetic equivalent of the Reagan era."
We've grown up some since then, and post-feminism has liberated women to be stylishly curvaceous, deliciously decorative, frankly feminine, appealing once more to men while accentuating the differences of the sexes. It's no longer necessary to camouflage the differences. Fashion is a noun referring to clothing, but it can be a verb meaning "to give shape or form, to alter or transform." The new first lady threatens to make fashion both a noun and a verb again. It comes with the territory.


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