In her Sunday column summing up the year in fashion, "Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, Models for Different Roles," Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn warned she was keeping politics out of it. That's a wise preemptive strike against a liberal readership that would probably miffed at her unfashinable praise of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's sense of style ("I like the way she dresses") and tweaking of first lady Michelle Obama for wearing non-American labels.
The first lady is more often celebrated in the Times as a Supermom, "focusing on her family, her garden and inspiring young people," as Rachel Swarns so eloquently put it in a July 19 swoon-a-thon.
Instead, Horyn lightly raised the issue of why the first lady isn't criticized more often for her fashion choices.
Mrs. Obama, though, has successfully separated the personal from the political. Indeed, the only thing more surprising than the storm over Ms. Palin's "Pretty Woman" makeover is that almost no one has raised an eyebrow over Mrs. Obama's wearing of non-American labels, which include Nina Ricci and Junya Watanabe, and some of the most expensive at that.
Times Watch has a theory involving "liberal bias," but then we would, wouldn't we?
Maybe the politicos don't know a Junya from a Juicy, though you can bet that Mrs. Obama and Desirée Rogers, the White House social secretary, do. And maybe the world has gone flat, largely paving over the distinctions, geographical as well as moral and ethical, about where clothing is made. But with garment factories in New York closing on a steady basis, with people losing their jobs in retail and fashion, it's a hard distinction to sell this year.
Anyway, Mrs. Obama has made it clear that her well-stocked closet is her business. Last March, in an interview about the new White House organic garden, she took a playful poke at her husband. "He doesn't understand fashion," she said. "He's always asking, 'Is that new? I haven't seen that before.' It's like: 'Why don't you mind your own business? Solve world hunger. Get out of my closet.'"
Lots of working women who spend their own money for their clothes would identify with that. But I've been thinking about those women, and it seems to me that Sarah Palin, and not Mrs. Obama, is closer to how most of them dress. (Obviously this is not a discussion about Ms. Palin's political views or intellectual gifts, so stay out of my fashion story.)
I like the way she dresses. The straight skirt and white blouse, the trim jacket with an open neck and three-quarter sleeves - the look is clean, tailored and energetic. It's businesslike without being boring, smart without being insider. You don't need to read a fashion magazine to understand it. That was how Ms. Palin dressed on her book tour. And it's the way a lot women would like to dress, and probably do, when they don't have time or many choices and think that accessories always wind up looking prissy.