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Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2001/ 20 Teves, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Clothes make the First Lady -- 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 Hilary 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 waiflike 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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01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate