Palin's pricey clothes may clash with image

McCain Palin 2008
Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin returns a signed book to a supporter after speaking to a rally in Green, Ohio, on Wednesday.Amy Sancetta / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Who knew looking like a hockey mom was this darned expensive?

Certainly not Wanda Routier, a proud hockey mom in Hewitt, Wis., who spends her time in sweat pants, turtlenecks, ankle boots and heavy coats.

She was dismayed to hear Wednesday that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 in two months on clothes, hair styling and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family from such upscale stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus.

"I was put off by it," Routier said. "I mean I know they have an image to project, but that's a lot of money when we're talking about the economy the way it is! And the burden on ordinary Americans."

But another hockey mom defended Palin. "I can certainly imagine her clothes would cost that much," said Page Growney, a mother of four in upscale New Canaan, Conn. "What did you want to see her in, a turtleneck from L.L. Bean?"

Do clothes clash with the message?
As much of the world knows, Palin introduced herself at the GOP convention — in what's been widely reported to be a $2,500 Valentino jacket — as a "regular hockey mom," and boasted of having saved Alaska's taxpayers "over-the-top" expenditures like her luxury jet, her personal chef, even the ride to work.

She has often talked of "real Americans" and "Joe Six-Pack" and projected a folksy demeanor in her vice presidential debate.

"Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card," she said in that debate. "Don't live outside of our means."

The average U.S. household spent $1,874 on clothes and services in 2006, the last year for which figures are available from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So her detractors were naturally having a field day with the revelations, first reported on They included a whopping $75,062 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, one for $49,425 from Saks Fifth Avenue, $4,902 at Atelier, a stylish men's store, and even a $92 romper and matching hat with ears for baby Trig at Pacifier, a Minneapolis baby store.

"Nothing says Main Street quite like Saks Fifth Avenue," wrote Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz.

Added AMERICAblog's John Aravosis: "Gee, Marshalls and Target are too good for Mrs. Joe Six-Pack?"

Thousands paid to makeup artist
The McCain campaign also reported paying $13,200 in September alone to celebrity makeup artist Amy Strozzi. The Washington Post first reported on its Web site that Strozzi had been placed on the campaign's payroll.

A session with a makeup artist at home or a hotel can start at around $125 for one application, said Alison Brod, a spokeswoman for the Laura Mercier brand.

To hire a top-tier hairstylist, like Oscar Blandi on Madison Avenue whose clients include Jennifer Garner and Katie Holmes, it would cost a minimum of $200 for the visit, and at least $150 for an updo like Palin's. A haircut could run $500.

Clothes to be donated to charity
The clothing purchases have raised questions about the propriety of using party money for such expenses. The Republican National Committee said the clothes belong to the committee, while John McCain's campaign said the clothing would go to a "charitable purpose" after the campaign. It also sought to deflect the issue by criticizing the media attention.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said McCain spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

But many thought the remarkable thing was the expenditures themselves, which also raised a cultural and sartorial question: Can a candidate who portrays herself as a woman of the people spend this much on clothes and remain credible?

"She presents herself as Josephine Six-Pack, and I'll tell you this, Josephine Six-Pack wouldn't spend $150,000 on her wardrobe," said Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine. "I'm all for 'shop 'til you drop.' But to be spending profligately when you're saying you're just one of the people — well, that's just bad marketing."

"Listen, you can walk into H&M and get three wardrobes for $500 to $1,000, and you're done," Seymour added.

'Offended' by the expenditures
That rings true to another hockey mom, Adina Ellick of Chappaqua, N.Y. "If I spend $1,000 on clothes in a year, it's a lot," said Ellick, 43. "Usually I'm sitting at a freezing hockey game in fleece pants and a pullover sweat shirt and a blanket over my head!" She said she was "offended" by news of the expenditures.

One stylist, though, thought $150,000 was not excessive for a woman in such a prominent place.

"Everything is relative," said Gretta Monahan, fashion adviser on "The Rachael Ray Show."

"Sarah Palin's goal is to be the vice president of the United States and that's a pretty damned big job. The better your image is, the better people will receive you."

If Palin's $2,500 Valentino jacket seems expensive, consider that Barack Obama wears Hart Schaffner Marx suits that retail for about $1,500. John McCain consistently wears $520 Salvatore Ferragamo loafers, while Vanity Fair editors estimated that one outfit worn by Cindy McCain cost $313,100, including diamond earrings and pearl necklace.

The immediate question for the McCain campaign, however, is whether the expenses were justified in the first place.

The 2002 campaign finance law that bears McCain's name specifically barred any funds "donated for the purpose of supporting the activities of a federal or state office holder" from being used for personal expenses, including clothing. A quirk in the law does not specifically mention party committees, however.

Fifteen years ago, McCain himself complained that restrictions on political contributions for personal use at that time were too broad and he wrote an amendment to tighten the law.

"The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly," he said in May 1993.

Expenses incurred by GOP consultant
Most of the expenses for Palin were initially incurred by Jeff Larson, a Republican consultant who was the CEO of the host committee for the Republican National Convention. Federal Election Commission records show that the RNC reimbursed Larson for the expenses — a total of $132,457.

Larson is a partner with FLS Connect, a firm hired by the McCain campaign and the RNC to undertake a phone calling campaign on behalf of McCain. Media reports have linked the firm to negative calls aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Larson's previous company worked for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, conducting phone calls in South Carolina opposing McCain.

Larson's office referred calls to the RNC. A committee spokesman said only that the RNC has acted properly in reimbursing Larson.

In 2007, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards sparked derision after his campaign paid for two $400 haircuts. His campaign said they paid the bill by mistake and that Edwards would reimburse the campaign.

As for Obama, his campaign says it has paid for hair and makeup costs associated with interviews or events, but neither the campaign nor the DNC has paid for clothing.