When I read the story about the RNC’s $150,000 clothes shopping spree for Sarah Palin, my heart sank. It was the usage of “appears to spend” that did it, which was in early versions of the story; I thought it was going to be like that “Cindy McCain wears a $380,000 outfit” story, which was, sorry, pure bullshit. Ninety percent of the figure was based on some jeweler’s estimate of what her earrings might cost, although the jeweler never got to check them out with the loupe. I thought the next line would be, “And that yellow Oscar de la Renta dress was spun from pure gold, it looks like. Let me redo the math.”
But this is a little better-sourced. In August, no expenses stated; in September, $49,425.74, plus $4,716.49 on hair and makeup, and isn’t it ironic that we all know there’s no way that much could have been spent on Grandpa Simpson, and Sarah Palin is actually a very pretty woman. Beautiful, even. And so you get the basic irony at the heart of femininity — the better you look, the more you have to spend to make people think so.
Let’s just talk makeup now. Some years ago, before Photoshop, some magazine — Harper’s, I think — ran a copy of the itemized bill submitted by the photo retoucher who worked on a famous magazine cover featuring Michelle Pfeiffer. It went on and on, dozens of places where the airbrush had been used to cover that wrinkle or smooth over that skin booboo. The joke of the list was that the picture had run under a cover line that read, “Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect exactly the way she is,” or something similar. There was another list going around at the time, a makeup artist’s detailed plan for giving Brooke Shields the no-makeup look on another magazine cover. It required 57 separate products costing about $450.
A person who can feel no empathy with another can’t be fully human, so here’s my soft spot regarding Palin: I know, looking at her, that when you’re a woman in the public eye, you just can’t win. To be sure, she looks sensational on the campaign. But if she didn’t, if she showed up for speeches in something she found at the Wasilla T.J. Maxx, there’d be another kind of hell to pay. You might as well look your best while you’re taking shit for stuff you have no control over.
And yes, maybe it’s true that this was all Palin’s doing, that the RNC staffers tried to get her to shop at Dress Barn and she waved her imperious hand in the air and said, “Designer or else, little missy, or you’re going back to D.C. on the next plane. You can take your chances with the Bushes and see how it goes.” But I doubt it. A job needed to get done fast; note how many charges are to department stores in the Twin Cities. The jaw does drop at the $150,000 figure, but my friends? That’s what happens when you pay full retail. They probably got nicked for a “personal shopping” charge, too.
Don’t Republicans know what Hollywood does? You pay a call on the designer and make an arrangement. You wear their clothing somewhere it’s guaranteed to get photographed, and the bill disappears. Well, wait a minute: Nancy Reagan did this and got called on it, so maybe not. Still. Someone at Neiman Marcus saw these folks coming and rubbed their lucky Rolex.
Here’s the ridiculous part, however: Instead of, y’know, owning it, the McCain camp made it worse:
“With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that we’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses,” said spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. “It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign.”
I want to know when that church rummage sale is going to be. (Even though Sarah wears a much smaller size.)
But as I said before: You just can’t win. We’ve become a nation of Robin Givhans, hunting the next Pulitzer in a piece about the semiotics of asymmetrical buttons. Much of her stuff rings a little too snarky for me — hasn’t she ever looked into her closet on a given morning and despaired? doesn’t she ever have PMS Wardrobe Madness? — I’m very glad she does what she does, because occasionally it serves as the national response to such sartorial oddities as the John Roberts family press conference. (I watched that one thinking, “Where do you even buy seersucker short-pants suits and saddle shoes for little boys these days? Does Nordstrom’s have a special department behind a secret door?”)
Frankly, Palin has been making such a mess of things on the trail, it’s probably just as well that she looks good doing it. If her hair was a mess at the same time, it would be too easy for the RNC to say, later, “Oh, that crazy lady…”
Sorry for the late start today, folks — another sleep deficit payback. Back to speed and ready to rock. So, rock on.