We salute 35 men and women who bring that je ne sais quoi to the ballrooms and boardrooms of Washington.
By Karin Tanabe
“Welcome to Washington, Hollywood for ugly people!” As Washingtonians, we know that the cringe-worthy moniker, while catchy for outsiders, has never applied to the inhabitants of our city. But during the era of Lady Bird yellow, Jimmy Carter casuals, Hillary Clinton headbands, and George W. Bush suits and cowboy boots, it sometimes rang true for our wardrobes. Then all of a sudden our stylish first lady Michelle Obama and her fashion conscious cabinet came to town and Washingtonians weren’t accused of dressing out of the “take me” bin anymore. The world turned their attention to FLOTUS and her love of labels from Azzedine Alaïa, to Isaac Mizrahi, and even shopping mall staple J. Crew.
But those of us who have lived in the city for years know that we weren’t so badly buttoned-up before the Obamas came to town. After all, some Washingtonians have quietly been making fashion splashes for decades, but have simply gone unsung. It’s been since the Reagan era that the fashion spotlight thought to drift below the Mason-Dixon line. Until now.
Come inauguration day 2009 and our city hit the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Town & Country, not for our politics, scandals, or political scandals, but for the things we dare to wear, and wear well. Our city’s first lady, Michelle Fenty, helped raise the style bar when her husband was elected in 2006. Young, modern, and at times decidedly daring with her wardrobe, you’re more likely to see Fenty in a bandage dress than a Talbots suit. And then came the other Michelle. Americans had a lot to say about her bare legs and flat shoes, her 1950’s inspired skirts, those twinsets and bubblegum pearls. Every outfit she wears makes the blogs and inspires hurrahs from New York fashion royalty. Yes, when those at the helm dress well, the rest of us are inclined to follow.
But of course, in Washington, we like to blaze our own trails. Lobbyist Heather Podesta will happily wear blue tights to a black tie function without batting an eyelash. And why not? Fashion rules were made to be broken, if they are broken well. Just think of Desirée Rogers wearing Commes des Garçons to the now infamous state dinner that ultimately led to her resignation; Rep. Jane Harman looking more Logan Circle than buttoned-up Capitol Hill; and of course, Michelle Obama flashing her bare arms.
Will the style makers in New York continue to pay attention to us after the Obama administration is no longer? It’s hard to say. But for now, this is a chance to herald those who stepped out of the pantsuit and black dress haze of Washington fashion and into something that’s bringing the capital closer and closer to the cutting edge. Are we going to see punk chic, street style, or mini-miniskirts on Capitol Hill anytime soon? Probably not. But that’s just not the nature of our city. We continue in the footsteps of style’s power houses: Deeda Blair, Bunny Mellon, the late Evangeline Bruce and Clare Booth Luce, Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. Add to them the new crop of D.C. socialites who have sprouted up in recent years and proved well up to the task of keeping Washington out of fashion Siberia, and the city’s come a long way baby. Here is to our first ever fashion awards, bestowed upon the 35 eople we salute for keeping the navy blue pinstripes away and daring to bring a little more flair to a city whose closets just got a lot more interesting.