Political Style

Ann Romney: The Lady In Red

Her red dress at the Republican National Convention was pitch perfect – even if her speech was not. By Robin Givhan.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

For her debut at the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney selected a perfect TV look: a simple red Oscar de la Renta dress with a face-framing collar.

She was styled as a classic vision of a first lady in a dress with a slim bodice and full skirt and matching belt with a sparkling buckle. It was a streamlined look for her, devoid of her usual statement necklaces. Each element was carefully considered, down to the red lipstick and the bright red nails – on display when Mrs. Romney put her hands over her mouth in a Taylor Swift-ian expression of “gosh, you all like me!”

The red, with its yellowish undertones, was flattering. It was patriotic. It was a Valentine’s Day color – a reference that came to mind after she announced that the talking point of the night was “love.” She then proceeded to list various reasons why Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, is the love of her life. He is funny. He was an awkward suitor. He has been loyal.

In a dress that was judiciously feminine, Mrs. Romney explained that she was speaking as a wife, mother, grandmother and, she added, an American – just in case there were any single, childless women watching who were awaiting some point of reassurance that they were part of this dialogue about love. With her talk of home, hearth and determination, it was hard not to also think of Donna Reed – that ‘50s homemaker in pretty dresses and heels. In both tone and image, Mrs. Romney exuded maternal strength, without talk of grizzlies, hockey moms or pit bulls.

Mrs. Romney was the polar opposite of Cindy McCain, when she appeared at the last Republican convention with her husband John, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. Mrs. McCain never tried to downplay her wealth or her status as an heiress. She arrived at the convention wearing a quadruple strand of pearls and significant diamond studs. Mrs. Romney was studiously downplaying her wealth, working hard to defuse any resentment of money or success with talk of ironing boards as dinner tables and a meager menu of pasta and tuna.

Throughout the speech, Mrs. Romney laughed and smiled brightly – sometimes at odd moments, as when she announced that Hurricane Isaac had made landfall. She offered no examples of just how her husband makes her laugh so uproariously. And it remained unclear why she felt so secure in promising the American people that as president he would not fail.

The dress gave her a polish and glow that the speech did not. So even if her words didn’t reveal much, the packaging was pitch perfect.