Two weeks ago, Paris elected its first female mayor. While Anne Hidalgo’s election was a groundbreaking moment for women in politics, the glossies went wild for another reason. With a platform that includes a strong focus on supporting Paris’s fashion industry, along with a friendship with many of its main players, Hidalgo has been thrust into a position akin to the fashionable first ladies of the world; the media has covered her—and her wardrobe—in the same vein as Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton, and even former French First Lady Carla Bruni. But for what reason? With her simple, monochromatic pantsuits and tailored separates, putting Hidalgo on a pedestal as an international style icon doesn’t make sense. In most ways—both politically and stylistically—she’s more of a Hillary Clinton. And that’s okay.
From the beginning of Hidalgo’s mayoral candidacy, fashion was already on the public’s mind. The 54-year-old Socialist contender was asked by WWD, “Do you see yourself in a role à la Michelle Obama, propelling designers?” She simply replied, “It is important and I love it. The designers do an incredible job. It’s good to make it visible, without being showy. I am an elected official, not a model. I like a subdued style, not bling-bling.”
On Wednesday, however, The Telegraph published a piece titled “New Paris Mayor Speaks the Language of Style,” in which writer Ellie Pithers said that Hidalgo proves that an “impeccable dress sense and political gravitas needn’t be mutually exclusive.” Yet, like her political views, Hidalgo’s style is normal and discrete. So how do blazers, trousers, and pointed-toe flats an “impeccable dress sense” make?
It seems the media is confusing Hidalgo’s platform with her style. Although she has emphasized a strong stance towards investing in eco-friendly projects (namely, the city’s bike share system, Vélib) and affordable housing (she has promised to create 10,000 new social housing units), her stance on actively working to improve Paris’s flourishing fashion industry (which rakes in about $20.70 billion per year, according to Paris City Hall) has become one of the most pivotal—and readily discussed—points of her platform.
Plus, her role as chairman of Paris Musées (which has overseen exhibitions highlighting the likes of Dries Van Noten, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier), attendance at Paris Fashion Week, and close friendships with Yves Saint Laurent co-founder Pierre Bergé and designer Agnès Troublé of label agnès b, have landed Hidalgo under a deceptive spotlight as Paris’s new first female of fashion.
“Unlike our female politicians, trussed up in headline-grabbing shoes and splashy-patterned coats, and looking incredibly uncomfortable while doing it, Spanish-born Hidalgo has a sleek uniform,” Pithers writes. “It’s a variation on the French Vogue-editor look: slim-cut trousers, a tailored jacket, a smart shoe, and improbably shiny hair.”
But while the Vogue Paris editors are known for their leggy cigarette pants and sharp stilettos, Hidalgo’s suits—and wardrobe as a whole—are nondescript. Pithers suggests that Hidalgo differs from her female politician peers, yet it seems that she actually possesses the same, seemingly drab, ‘Working Woman,’ style as some of the world’s most-talked about female politicians—Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
So why is Pithers talking about Hidalgo as if she’s one of today’s first ladies, when she’s certainly not wielding young designer frocks and colorful dress coats? The media seems to be confusing her political agenda with a sense of style, praising her ‘Hillary Clinton-esque’ looks almost as much as ensembles worn by Middleton or Obama. Hidalgo has already admitted her style is not “bling bling,” so why are people trying to turn it into something different?
Does it have to do with the world’s obsession with, and admiration for, French women? With books on how French women donn’t get fat—or age—we immediately assume every female in the country is a leggy, slim, and impeccably dressed Carine Roitfeld or Ines de la Fressange. We assume French ladies are supposed to be chic and elegant. Does Pithers think that by comparing Hidalgo to a Vogue Paris editor that she will, in turn, eventually transform into such?
Similar to debates regarding her fellow lady politicos and their appearances, it’s difficult to determine the appropriate line between talking about a female politician’s positions and talking about her clothes—especially when the media has made the two so interchangeable. The fascination with Hidalgo’s clothing choices—her “dark tailored suits” and mostly-monochromatic looks—however, has been taken a step too far.
In July 2011, celebrity style expert Tim Gunn said of Clinton: “Why must she dress that way? I think she’s confused about her gender. All these big, baggy menswear-tailored pantsuits. No, I’m really serious. She wears pantsuits that are really unflattering.” Pelosi has been highlighted for her “maternal sense of style.” They are ‘stylish,’ at least in a way that allows them to be taken seriously in a predominately male-dominated career. But their outfit choices are certainly not ground-breaking. Neither are Hidalgo’s.
So, why is it that the media has become enamored with a woman whose style is simple, not out of the ordinary, and, dare we say it—age appropriate? The media may slyly highlight Clinton’s pantsuits, but she’s not normally associated with a fashion-forward sense. The same goes for Pelosi, Boxer, and Gillibrand. And the same should go for Hidalgo. It’s great that ladies like Obama and Middleton are style influencers—helping to increase the visibility and sales of young designers. But it’s also just fine for Hidalgo to embrace her own style—and not be held on a false pedestal—while holding the reins of the fashion capital of the world.