The line on Sarah Palin's $150,000 shopping spree is that it, uh, hurts her blue collar cred. It's not very "Joe the Plumber" to spend more than three times the median American household income on a month's worth of clothes from elitist high-end stores. The woman's Real American authenticity has been her best asset, but that huge number, those receipts, the stores, all of those shocked everyone. Because she still looks exactly the same! Which is why this story isn't as simple as it's been painted. She's not beer heiress Cindy McCain pretending to be a woman of the people (which Cindy has obviously never done)—Palin was handed a blank check to go shopping, and she shopped exactly like a typical upper-middle class suburban mom would've shopped. And all the criticisms of her shopping are actually elitist! Seriously! Always hilarious Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan wrote all about Sarah Palin's "exceptionally ordinary" style just last month.
Her clothes don't have the aura of sophistication like that of Michelle Obama's sheaths and pearls. They do not have a patina of glamour like Cindy McCain's heiress wardrobe. And they do not announce themselves with the confidence, assertiveness and listen-to-me-ness of Sen. Hillary Clinton's bold pantsuits. Palin's clothes are common. Everyone knows someone who dresses like her, which is partly why so many folks seem to think that they know her.
So the revelation that these relentlessly bland clothes were in fact hugely expensive is a surprise at first. But upon reflection, it makes sense. Lottery winners don't spend wisely either. The nouveau riche never have taste. And so, amusingly, the hubbub about Palin's shopping spree is classist, just not in the expected way. Palin bought name brands because she'd heard of them, and spent far too much on them. A wise coastal elitist professional woman would've looked for bargains, would've dressed better for cheaper. Palin spent a fortune to look like the same elementary school teacher she looked like before!
"My first reaction when I heard about this was, ‘Honey, I could have dressed you for a lot less than that,' " said Cindi Leive, the editor in chief of Glamour magazine, which asked readers on Wednesday to vote in an online poll whether the expenses were too high; 72 percent said they were. "In general, she looks terrific," Ms. Leive said, "but if you asked me to figure out where the $150,000 went, I'm not sure I could tell you."
Now, if you've got a candidate whose persona centers on small-town America, Joe Six-Pack, and lots and lots of "you betcha," what business do you have connecting her to Neiman's, Saks and Barneys, specialty stores — no, they are not good old-fashioned department stores — that epitomize upscale, rarefied, luxury consumption? No one can make the argument that the only store open in Minneapolis in early September was the local Neiman Marcus. They couldn't have popped into J. Crew or Ann Taylor? On "What Not to Wear," Clinton and Stacy manage to build an entire wardrobe for their client for a mere $5,000.
Exactly! Expert stylists would never have shopped like this! This is how a real American shops, elitists. Mesmerized by brands, but ignorant of your "style" and "fashion." [Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times; Rick Wilking/Reuters; Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press]