Ann Romney wore a $990 blouse on a morning TV show and the media want to make sure you know about it, because — oh no, she didn’t!
Does the blouse prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Romneys are out of touch with the people?
Or does the blouse merely prove that Ann Romney is, like many other wives in politics, a presentable upper-class woman who purchased it because she liked it and could afford it, and that we should focus instead on matters that truly affect the United States of America?
The blouse on trial is a short-sleeved swath of colorful silk. It is called “The Reed Audubon Silk Shirt.” A yellow-hued falcon (a gyrfalcon, to be exact) swoops across the front; its prey appears to be Ann Romney’s right tricep. It was designed by Reed Krakoff, the man who turned Coach into a $4-billion purse enterprise and whose “most abiding aesthetic interest is the use of design to convey privilege,” according to a 5,500-word profile of him in the New Yorker last year.
Krakoff “100 percent didn’t send” the item to Ann Romney, a representative for the designer told ABC News. “We don’t get involved politically.”
Which means Ann Romney or a Romney associate bought it off the rack at either Krakoff’s Madison Avenue boutique or another high-end retailer that sells the top alongside other $1,000 tops, because that’s how much some people spend on tops. Which is not, at this point in American history, a crime.
But in American politics, a $1,000 blouse is at least a misdemeanor. It is also grist for the 24-hour news cycle. The Cut, a blog for New York magazine, first noticed the Krakoff within hours of the Romneys’ appearance on “CBS This Morning.” On Wednesday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell devoted several minutes of airtime to the blouse, which he called “a really ugly T-shirt” that is “yet another example of how out of touch the Romney family can be with how 99 percent of Americans live.”
Ann Romney has been cast in the political narrative as the down-to-earth spouse. Her struggles with multiple sclerosis, identity as a stay-at-home mom and ease on the campaign stage have made her an asset to her husband. But the pricey blouse is catnip for critics, who’ve framed her husband as a rich guy whose beach-house renovation includes an elevator for his cars.
“To some extent, the blouse is relevant because it’s one more example of how wealthy she is,” says Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “Class always matters a lot, but it matters especially when one candidate is seen as out of touch in economically vulnerable times.”
It was Michelle Obama who nudged Krakoff into the spotlight last spring, when she wore his items on multiple occasions. In March 2011, she carried a teal leather tote by the designer to a parent-teacher conference, according to the Daily Mail.
The cost of the tote?
Ten dollars more than Ann Romney’s bird blouse.
Political wives have been criticized for their clothing since the days of Mary Todd Lincoln, whose gowns were labeled extravagant during wartime. Nearly 150 years later, the Republican National Committee spent $75,000 at Neiman Marcus for Sarah Palin’s 2008 campaign wardrobe, and Michelle Obama wore Lanvin cap-toe sneakers ($540-$565) to volunteer at the Capital Area Food Bank in 2009.
“If you look at what Michelle wears . . . a lot of her things cost that much, if not more” than Romney’s top, says Nancy Pearlstein, owner of the high-end Georgetown boutique Relish. “If you’re going to start picking on people, you’ve got to go all the way around. The fact that the top is ugly, well — maybe there’s something to say about that.”
The bird blouse recalls in both name and design the ornithologist-naturalist John James Audubon, whose legacy evokes the American wilderness. The gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the world’s largest falcon and may grow up to two feet in length. It preys on hares and rodents in polar regions. It is also the official mascot of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Memo to the Romney campaign: Ann Romney’s blouse stands with our proud service members in the Air Force!
Memo to Barack Obama’s re-election committee: Ann Romney’s blouse supports foreign birds that snack on tundra rats!
Perhaps the would-be first lady’s only offense was wearing such a recognizable item of clothing on national television, especially when the current first lady tries to balance her image by shopping at Target. It’s a charade, though. Presidents, wannabe presidents and their spouses are not — and will never be — average citizens with average wardrobes.
Call it news, even though it’s not.
It doesn’t matter. Politicians pretend to be average. Blouses are bought and worn. Pundits stoke their own ire. The 24-hour cycle churns. The gyrfalcon cannot hear the falconer.