When thinking about Washington, D.C., “fashion capital” probably is not something that comes to mind right away. As the political center of the country, D.C. has adopted the reputation of a conservative culture when it comes to fashion. Men and women working in politics and on the Hill are generally known more for their policies than the labels they wear. A Vanity Fair article from February of this year says, “Generally speaking, America’s political class dresses to underwhelm.” The article then poses the question, “How is it that some of the most powerful people in the world don’t understand the importance of image?” For those of us living and working in D.C. with an interest in fashion, the question makes us think.
When we’re working on behalf of our clients, we make an effort to ensure that everything looks consistent, that we use the right colors, and that we are portraying a strong message. Why don’t we always do that for ourselves? Is our personal brand not important? Non-verbal communication can be just as powerful as verbal communication. According to a Forbes article, we’re constantly communicating and making a statement in some way. Our clothing choices are no different. Whether or not we consciously think about it as we’re getting dressed in the morning, what we’re wearing is sending a message – men and women alike.
An interesting example of this dilemma is seen in D.C.-based shows like House of Cards and Scandal. Part of the draw of both of these shows comes in the form of the fashion choices of Robin Wright’s, Claire Underwood in House of Cards and Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope in Scandal. Claire Underwood is known for her cool, no-nonsense exterior. When it came to how to convey these personality traits through a computer or iPad screen, Tom Broecker, the show’s first-season costume designer, chose to dress Robin Wright in tailored pencil skirts, crisp blouses, fitted dresses and stiletto heels. These pieces give Claire the look of a sleek warrior, and someone whose exterior can’t be penetrated, Broecker explains in an article appearing the April 2015 issue of Vanity Fair.
Similarly, in Scandal, costume designer Lyn Paolo puts Kerry Washington in clothing by luxury designers to highlight Olivia’s position of power. In a Washingtonian article, Paolo explains that she wanted to move away from the dark grey and navy colors that are often associated with D.C. fashion. When selecting pieces from designers like Armani and Dior, Paolo sticks to lighter, softer tones to create a wardrobe that conveys femininity but also power and confidence. Looking at both Claire and Olivia’s characters, it is interesting to see how they are both strong, powerful women, but are dressed in different ways to portray that same image.
In the world of communications, where everything is crafted to evoke different feelings, judgements and emotions, how we dress our selves is no different. Through our clothing choices of dresses, skirts, pants, suits, t-shirts or jeans, we send out a unique message about how we want to be perceived each day. It’s in our hands to decide what message we want to communicate. So, take a look in the mirror, what are you wearing today? Is your outfit communicating what you want it to?