By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Policing the fashion police

Guy Trebay’s story in the Sunday New York Times on how the presidential candidates dress was intended as a bit of Style-section fluff. It is, unfortunately, a mess, botched both by Trebay and his editors. Consider:

  • We are told that John McCain has been made sport of for wearing a “so-called ‘gay sweater,’ a V-neck worn over a T-shirt.” Well, maybe he has, but the accompanying photo shows McCain wearing a V-neck sweater over a shirt with a collar. How gay is that? Media Nation has no idea.
  • Trebay informs us of the dangers that lurk for candidates who take their wardrobe too seriously: “They risk becoming Al Gore in earth tones, … to cite a famously lampooned misstep the former presidential candidate undertook on the advice of Naomi Wolf, then his image consultant.” Well, now. If there’s a piece of campaign mythology that’s been debunked more thoroughly than that one, I’m not aware of it. Here’s the Daily Howler on the Gore-Wolf matter.
  • Just two sentences later, Trebay writes: “They risk John Kerry’s damaging decision to turn up on television tinted the tangerine hue of a Mystic Tan.” Uh, no. That was Gore, in the first debate in 2000. [Note: See correction, below.]
  • In a reference to Hillary Clinton, Trebay writes that “National Review contributor Myrna Blyth recently characterized [her] as Hairband Hillary, the first lady whose unsteady self-image led to frequent coiffure changes and endearing wardrobe missteps.” I could find absolutely no reference to “Hairband Hillary,” either on Google or LexisNexis. But I did find this, from Blyth’s blog: “Don’t forget that, when she was First Lady, Hillary used to change the way she did her hair every 20 minutes or so. A new look for every presidential crisis, major or minor. Remember the hair band, the flip, the long-gone shoulder-sweeping curls?”

Close enough? Maybe; Trebay didn’t actually put Hairband Hillary in quotation marks. And perhaps the phrase is out there somewhere, even though I couldn’t find it. But what are we to make of the cutline? “READ MY PANTSUIT Hillary Clinton eschews power suits. Railbirds note that she has also lost her trademark hairband.” Her “trademark hairband”? I’m pretty sure Clinton hasn’t worn a headband since the 1992 campaign.

Even froth is unsatisfying when it’s riddled with errors.

And, oh yeah, what’s with the “railbird” reference?

Correction: Oh, there’s nothing I like more than having to correct an item in which I make fun of others’ errors. But it has to be done. There was something about John Kerry’s orange tan during the 2004 campaign, and I had completely forgotten it. See this. Not that it’s any excuse, but the incident was not nearly as well-known as Al Gore’s orange appearance in 2000.

Update: You will not be surprised to learn that former Globe fiction writer Mike Barnicle thoroughly screwed up the “earth tones” thing while filling in on “Hardball” last week, and that he refused to be corrected by Wolf herself. The Daily Howler reports.

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  1. Anonymous

    I think you’re wrong. I remember a photo of Kerry wiuth a fake tan that looked orange. He looked like an oompa loompa. You can google these photos, but who knows at this point if they have been photoshopped. I remember seeing on

  2. Steve

    I assume “railbird” is a second-order sports reference, playing off of the primary sports metaphor of the presidential campaign as a “horserace”.

  3. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    I am SO concerned about what the candidates are wearing. The whole world is crashing down around us, and I should be worried what our leaders are wearing? Geez. . . . As I recall, Gandhi changed the world wearing a diaper.

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