Have you missed Ivanka Trump’s breathlessly variable White House fashion—her pristine, all-white “I’m rich” outfits or knifelike Louboutin stilettos? Probably not. But say what you will about the whole erosion of democracy under Trump’s presidency, or that pesky insurrection, the first daughter sure wore some outfits during her four years as a “White House adviser”-slash-faded-debutante.
Don’t fret, for a torch has been passed. Ivanka may be holed up in her million-dollar Miami compound, but another high-powered white woman is dressing to enrage: Kyrsten Sinema. Her clothes appear to be an extension of her political persona: she will do things her way, thanks very much, and she does not care if you don’t like it, or don’t understand it—such as her wearing a denim vest to preside over the Senate earlier this week.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. There are plenty of reasons to rag on the senator from Arizona that have nothing to do with what she wears. She ghoulishly voted against raising the minimum wage in the middle of the pandemic and underscored her choice with a faux-cutesy “thumbs down” on the Senate floor.
Despite the “our office is here to serve you” blazed on her official website, Sinema does not hold town hall meetings with constituents. She cried victim when protestors followed her into the bathroom to grill her about Biden’s Reconciliation Bill and amnesty. (Heaven forbid a public servant is made to feel the slightest bit uncomfortable when the people she represents attempt to hold her accountable for her actions.)
Much like Ivanka, Sinema keeps quiet on the issues most people want to talk about, preferring to let her outfits and the smirks she gives photographers do the talking. So whether she likes it or not, the rest of us are left projecting our opinions about Sinema onto her clothing.
The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote a column on her “kooky” looks, which she called “signposts… and the direction they are pointed is entirely her way.” SNL tapped Cicely Strong to play the senator this month, with cast member James Austin Johnson as Joe Biden saying, “She looks like all the characters from Scooby-Doo at the same time.”
Sinema’s mix-match of prints—zebra stripe socks here, a pig wink there— even inspired the Halloween costume of Theo, a 6-month-old puppy who North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis brought to Congress’ “bipawtisan” dog costume contest. (I’m sure the American people would prefer actual bipartisanship rather than a folksy play on words, but none of that is Theo’s fault. Good job, Theo.)
So what do we make of her clothes? The “Fuck You” ring she wore to brunch, supposedly a message to her “haters.” The Marilyn Monroe get-up she wore to her 2019 swearing-in, which included a pink fur coat and bodycon, floral-printed gown. The “Dangerous Creature” sweater she had on earlier this year while presiding over Congress. And then the denim vest from this week, which seemed to set everyone ablaze.
It was against the Senate’s dress code, for one thing (no denim allowed), but it also seemed to encapsulate everything that is grating about Sinema’s fashion point of view. She says nothing of substance. She seems to actively hate the people she was elected to serve. But she does this all in a painfully curated—and pretty annoying—alt-aligned wardrobe. So often that her dress code overshadows what she does, and gives Sinema’s defenders the perfect opportunity to cry sexism.
But of course, it’s not about the damn vest, or the expletive-laden ring, or those cheap party wigs. It’s about Sinema’s refusal to do her job and make the lives of Americans just a bit easier. She insists upon going her own way, right down to the tacky clothing. The pieces are not the problem; it is what those pieces represent.
Sure, Ivanka probably hasn’t worn a denim vest since her late ’90s teen modeling gigs. She and the senator probably won’t go thrifting together anytime soon. (Has Ivanka ever thrifted in her life?) Their personal styles may be different, but the effect remains the same. They have wardrobes fit for their own personal brand of political villain.
They may want their clothes to communicate a message, but so often that message paraphrases that famous coat of Melania’s: “I don’t care, and I’m going to keep dressing like it.”