Unexpected Style Icons: Hillary and Anna

If you knew me in middle school and wondered who my style icon was, you’d probably have guessed farmer (by-product of being homeschooled: you wear a lot of plaid and overalls). When I didn’t look like I just got back from hauling bales of hay, I often sported a long-sleeved, plain black shirt with a black-and-yellow A-line skirt.

Plenty of other kids whispered about me behind my back. I was extremely conscious that I didn’t look like them, with their Limited Too spaghetti straps and Adidas sneakers. When I would complain to my mother, she’d respond by saying, “But your aunt (who is a fashion designer in NYC) would love you in this! It’s so classic.”

Needless to say, the second I reached high school and earned enough money to buy my own clothes, the glitter and velour and weird, off-the-shoulder configurations came out in full force. I wore red track-pants with “Hollister” emblazoned across the butt until my parents confiscated them. I had enough pale pink stretch tops to start a Hilton sisters boutique. I finally felt “cool,” albeit self-conscious and paranoid about accidentally wearing the same outfit twice within two weeks.

In college, things started to change. It dawned on me that something didn’t have to come from a store in the mall to look good. And I started paying attention to what other people, besides my peers, were wearing: I observed my professors, my boss at work, people I interacted with at the grocery store or on the street. I realized, finally, that there was no one acceptable way to dress. The stigma that had been following me since 7th grade, this feeling that I was an outsider and I didn’t “speak the language” of fashion, gradually subsided.

Ever since then, my style icons have been people whose attitudes I admire as much as I do the way they dress. They aren’t exactly sleek Gwyneth Paltrows or quirky Dita von Teeses, but they are people with strong identities and unwavering loyalty to the same.

1. Hillary Clinton

Remember when Hillary, twice voted one of America’s most influential 100 lawyers, was running for President and all anyone could talk about was her pantsuits? The colors were too bright, the fit was wrong, she looked dowdy, etc. And just this past September, there was a great to-do about a claw clip she wore to secure her hair while visiting the U.N.

Regardless of what the rest of America thinks, my opinion is that Hillary always looks effortlessly professional and unique. She’s not afraid to whip out bright or pastel-colored suits, but she always sticks with her signature monochromatic look, accessorizing with contrasting flats and usually a pearl necklace. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but she has fun with it, and I admire her for not taking the public criticism to heart. Personally, I’d rather she continues to work her wardrobe within the framework of respectful professionalism than deviate by wearing things like, ahem, Naughty Monkey shoes (I think Sarah Palin has a style that works for her too; I just don’t find it very amusing for potential world leaders to traipse around in open-toed, 4-inch heels. So sue me).

My favorite Hillary fashion moment thus far has been Chelsea’s wedding rehearsal. Hil wore a gorgeous, flowing, turquoise caftan. She looked absolutely radiant, and we got a glimpse of the exuberant style she somehow manages to streamline while acting as Secretary of State.

2. Anna Wintour

This one ought to elicit a few groans, since The September Issue proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Anna is a Fashion Grinch who imposes impossible body standards on everyone, even cameramen. Still, Anna is a zeitgeist unto herself, a woman I imagine is as much steeped in the rigidity of the fashion world as she is its creator. Additionally, she has come under plenty of fire for her own personal appearance.

Click over to any web article about Wintour that features comments, and you’ll be regaled by epithets like “ugly” and “lizard.” A Lagerfeld gown she wore to the 2008 Met Costume Gala was crowned the worst fashion faux pas of the year by Time magazine. Her looks and style were caricaturized in The Devil Wears Prada and on an episode of Ugly Betty, which featured a drag queen going by the name “Manna Wintour“ making fun of The September Issue.

Anna deserves a good deal of the backlash she’s so often greeted with, but I can’t help but admire her fortitude and complete disregard for critics. The winds of fashion may change, people may gossip that she’s sinking Vogue, a former employee may threaten to kill her, but still Anna shows up at fashion week, sporting her signature Wayfarers, her bob, and her Chanel suits.

In fact, I was absolutely delighted to read that she tailored her Chanel miniskirts and jackets so she could continue wearing them throughout her two pregnancies, as chronicled in Jerry Oppenheimer’s biography of Anna. This illustrates exactly what I love about her–a fierce commitment to herself and a devil-may-care attitude about who reports it and what their opinion is.

So, I would love to know: who are your famous style icons?

One reply on “Unexpected Style Icons: Hillary and Anna”

Patti Smith – I love her “I don’t care” simplicity. (I wish I could rock a man’s white shirt and disheveled hair like she does, but I don’t have Mapplethorpe photographing me either.)

Actually, most of my style “icons” lean toward the androgynous side of style: Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett — I’m also a child of the 80s, as if you couldn’t tell. Personally, I think I dress like the spawn of Johnny Knoxville and Juno. Messy, grunge androgyny. Or I just really need to go clothes shopping.

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