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What to Wear When Running for Political Office: The Woman Candidate’s Capsule Wardrobe

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What to Wear When Running for Office: The Political Candidate’s Capsule Wardrobe for WomenIt’s 2018 but when you Google what to wear when running for political office, what to wear for a political campaign, or any other similar search almost all advice is old and geared towards men.  Where's the advice for women political candidates? At the October Women’s Convention in Detroit, Emily’s List stated over 20,000 women thad already decided to run in 2017, and about 40% of those women were running in local elections.  While women are more than half of our country’s population, in 2017 only 19.4% of Congress, 23.7% of statewide elective, and 24.9% of state legislatures were female. Not only does having more women in office better represent our population and help support women-related issues, having women in politics benefits the entire country.  A few stats:

Over the past year I struggled with how to help our country while running a fashion blog. That is until two readers in Texas reached out asking if I would assist them with a seminar on how women should dress when running for political office.  In their area, they had many brilliant, successful, and passionate women run for office but weren’t sure how to dress for their new profession. They were comfortable dressing for their day jobs as attorneys, teachers, doctors, scientists, and more but needed assistance with the transition to the public sector.  I reached out to Rosana Vollmerhausen, Founder and Chief Personal Stylist of the personal styling company DC Style Factory who has experience dressing politicians in the Nation’s Capital and its suburbs.  Together we created a capsule wardrobe of just 14 items that will dress a woman for all her political events during a campaign and a corresponding seminar to support female candidates one-on-one with campaign style.  We conducted this seminar twice in 2017 and look to conduct many more in 2018.

This post delves into the basics from our seminar – the capsule wardrobe for female politicians and tips on what to wear to the basic campaign events:

  • Door-to-door canvassing
  • Casual fundraising at a home or somewhere in your community
  • Slightly more formal fundraising at a restaurant or event hall
  • Cocktail party event
  • Town hall

What to Wear when Running for Political Office: A Capsule Wardrobe for the Woman Candidate

capsule wardrobe fopr running for office. style and grooming tips for the female candidateshop similar pieces featured in this capsule wardrobe:
solid colored sheath dress with sleeves (plus size option) | slim belt | loafer or structured flat with almond or pointed toe (option with widths) | block heel pump with almond or pointed toe (option with widths) | small pendant necklace or signature everyday piece of jewelry | dressy statement necklace | black straight leg or “cigarette” pants (plus size option) | dark denim jeans with a straight cut and free of embellishments or distressing (plus size option) | dressy clutch purse | sheer hosiery (plus size option) | soft jacket (plus size option) | another soft jacket with a bit more structure (plus size option) | silky solid-colored blouse (plus size option) | another blouse with good drape (plus size option)

With just 14 pieces, you can be dressed for any event that comes your way as a political candidate, no matter your audience.  This capsule is only a guide, not gospel, and can be adjusted for your specific needs, culture, or climate.  Before dissecting this capsule, let’s see how it can work for the most common campaign events and why these specific items were chosen.

How to Dress for Canvassing Door-to-Door

 This is by far the most labor-intensive activity when running for office. The key message for this look is “Relatable.” Your goal is to have people listen to you, trust you, and relate to you. What you wear has to be something anyone would wear, just a bit more elevated.

what to wear when canvassing door to door as a political candidateDenim is a way to look relatable, and this look elevates it a notch above jeans and a tee shirt. A dark or “rinse” pair of jeans in a straight cut is the most universally flattering and far more versatile than skinny, bootcut, wide leg, or flare jeans.  Choose a pair free of whiskering, distressing, or embellishments. Such jeans can be found at most any pricepoint; consider a hint of Lycra for stretch and comfort.  With these jeans wear the flat shoes from the capsule wardrobe; there are many comfort brands that beautifully marry comfort and style to keep you feeling great as you pound the pavement.  With it wear one of the silky blouses in a color you love and a jacket or soft layering third piece to complete the look.  Add your pendant necklace or signature accessory for interest and a touch of shine.

How to Dress for a Fundraising Event

The key word for a fundraising event is “Trustworthy.”  When you are fundraising, you are asking people to trust you enough to contribute their money to support your candidacy.

what to wear for a casual fundraising event when a political candidateThis look is for a more casual fundraising event, possibly at a neighbor’s house. This is a way to meet people right in your community in an intimate setting; the goal is to look approachable but slightly dressier than your look for canvassing.  Just by switching from jeans to a pair of straight leg trousers accomplishes this effect.  Not pictured but you tuck in your blouse and have belt loops, you should wear a belt.. While the blouse changed, honestly you can wear the same one for canvassing; that’s the beauty of this capsule wardrobe – so many pieces are interchangeable.

what to wear for a fundraising event when a political candidateThis look is a bit more formal for a fundraising event at a restaurant or other local business.  Just by choosing a more structured jacket, you accomplish it without having to change any other aspect of the look.  While the jacket here is cropped, a longer jacket or structured sweater jacket would also work nicely.  Look for jackets out of ponte knit which have as much stretch as yoga pants but look refined enough for such an event.

The goal is clean, polished, not too distracting.  You are selling your message, not your personal style.  You wish to appeal to a broad range of constituents who have different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, and lifestyles. Solid colors over prints let your words take the spotlight, are less memorable, and photograph better. For fundraising events, unless they’re at a picnic or other uber-casual event, steer clear of denim and tee shirts.  Pieces should have a bit of structure – not sloppy cardigans, oversized pieces, or anything that clings or bags.

What to Wear to a Political Cocktail Party

The key word behind this sort of look is “Sophisticated.”  At cocktail events you are schmoozing, it’s an opportunity to showcase your personality as you rub elbows with other politicians and larger donors.  Your look should be elevated: formal, classic, and elegant. For this look it’s a similar concept to the previous outfits – polished and simple enough so that your message and not your outfit take the spotlight.

what to wear to a cocktail party when you are a political candidateA solid colored tailored dress is the best choice.  A black dress is featured here, but you can do most any color.  The hem should hit one of three points – directly above the knee, at the middle of the knee, or directly below.  Any longer and the dress can look too long.  Opt for sleeves unless you love your arms.  There is no layering for this look (no shrugs, boleros, cardigans, or wraps); your dress, no matter the color acts as a not-so little black dress and should be able to stand on its own.  For fabrics, look for crepe, silk, ponte knit, matte jersey, and classic suiting fabrics.  A lined dress will hang better and look more elevated.

You’ll be on your feet for many hours, a block-heel pump will provide more stability and better distribute weight than a skinny heel.  This sort of heel is on trend right now so you can find a great variety at retailers of all pricepoints.  A pointed or almond toebox will make the shoe more elegant and formal.

To dress up this look, add one statement accessory.  While this capsule wardrobe features a necklace, you could switch it out for a brooch or earrings.  However, only choose one statement piece above the bustline.  A smaller clutch purse with a bit of sparkle will also help make the dress look more formal; many of these purses come with a delicate chain strap so you can hang it off your shoulder to have your hands free for meet and greets and hors d’ourves.  For a formal event, opaque tights are not dressy enough. Thanks to Kate Middleton, sheer hosiery is back in style and you can find really sheer natural ones in all sizes and pricepoints (the lower the denier number, the more sheer the hosiery). Sheer black stockings are acceptable, but only if you’re wearing black pumps.

What to Wear for a Town Hall

\The key word for this look is “Authority.”  You are the expert on the issues and the best to handle such issues.  Your look has to convey this authority; the effect is polished, tailored, and fierce.  This is a more formal business look, but NOT a suit.  Separates will better accomplish the effect you desire.

what to wear when participating in a town hall as a political candidateThis look also incorporates the dress from the capsule wardrobe, but layered with a more structured jacket it achieves a completely different effect.  Your jacket can be any length; a longer car coat can be quite flattering and look great over a sheath, a-line shift, or wrap dress.  You wish to use a more structured jacket, preferably one with subtle texture or print in place of classic suiting material. You want to look formal and powerful, but accessible at the same time and fabric choice can make all the difference.  Another plus to a subtle pattern or texture – no visible sweat marks!  Adding your signature accessory provides interest and shine without being too distracting.

For such an event, steer clear of bright red, white, gray, or optic prints.  None of these do well on camera and town halls are often photographed and televised. If you wish to do pants, you could wear the black pants from the capsule but dress it up with the pumps and a more structured jacket or longer car coat.

How to Shop on a Budget

  • Lord & Taylor is a great resource for budget-friendly yet polished workwear. You may find better selection online. Check our their in-house brand Nipon Boutique which carries stylish workwear in regular and plus sizes and nothing is over $100.
  • Buy cheap and spend on a tailor.  When your clothes fit your body and proportions, you will look more expensive.  To find a tailor or seamstress, ask at bridal boutiques and men’s clothing stores – their in-house tailor may also take on side work. Nordstrom provides alterations on any clothing purchased at their store.
  • Don’t spend a lot on blouses.  Blouses are only a base layer that is usually partially hidden under a jacket or cardigan so you can scrimp on this piece. A poly-blend fabric is much less expensive than silk, easier to launder, and doesn’t wrinkle either.
  • Shop Poshmark, eBay, and ThreadUp with caution… and a mission. Online resale sites can be great for bargains, but if you don’t go in with a strategy you could get sucked in by a great deal and end up going off course.  My suggestion is to use it to shop for a very specific item – if you know the brand, the style name, the size that fits, the fabric, and color you desire you can search these sites and possible find it at a lower price.

Grooming Tips for the Political Candidate

We often forget that to have a really cohesive and polished look we have to not only address our style and wardrobe, but also hair and makeup.  The key here is just like it is for your wardrobe – to be you, only a bit more polished and defined.  This is not the time to get a makeover, we’re not looking for a Glamour Shots effect.

  • If you never wear makeup, don’t jump into full face.  You still want to be authentic to who you are.  A bit of concealer can even skintone and reduce dark circles without looking obvious. L’Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Concealer is a great formula, comes in a broad range of colors, and is available at most drug stores. Mascara is a great way to define your eyes without looking too done up. Maybelline Great Lash Mascara is a lightweight formula that won’t clump.
  • If you are comfortable with makeup, you may wish to head into Sephora, Ulta, or your nearby department store to learn a few new techniques focusing on evening skintone, reducing dark circles, or finding a product that will last longer. I recommend visiting before lunch on a weekday when the store won’t be as busy.  Such makeovers are free in the hopes you will purchase something.
  • When you are on camera, shine can turn your face into a disco ball.  A translucent powder compact or pack of oil blotting papers should always be in your bag for events that may televised, be stressful, or too warm.

The ultimate goal is to define your features so you are you, only better o camera and from a distance.

What to Wear Under the Capsule Wardrobe: Foundation Garments

When you are on camera and in front of a crowd, details matter. You wish to have a smooth and polished look, and your underpinnings can make all the difference.

  • If you haven’t had a bra fitting recently, now is a good time.  A properly sized bra will be more comfortable, help your clothing lie better, and may even make you look slimmer.  You should be refitted for bras every year as your bust changes with age, weight fluctuation, and life changes.
  • Not all foundation garments squeeze, pinch, and suck you in.  I am a fan of this bodysuit from TC Intimates which work with your bra, prevent any rolls between bra and waist in the back, and give a smooth look without any gas pains or visible lines.  Such a piece is especially valuable when wearing a dress and more tailored garments.
  • When wearing pants and tailored skirts, look for undergarments that are seamless and promote being invisible under clothing.  I am a fan of Soma’s Vanishing Edge collection.

The Purpose of this Capsule Wardrobe

This capsule isn’t to make you spend a lot of money or be someone you’re not.  Men have a set uniform, women’s fashion is more complicated.  The goal of this capsule wardrobe is to simplify your fashion so you can focus on the issues that matter most to your community.  We want to see you succeed, and want to provide our knowledge to assist with that.

How to Host a Political Style Seminar for your Organization

Our seminar on style for the political candidate delves into the capsule wardrobe, how to style it in multiple ways, and advice on working with your existing closet, understanding color and print, tips on grooming and accessories, and shopping tips to make the process less painful and less expensive.  At the end of the seminar, we work individually with attendees who brought some of their campaign clothing for advice on styling, tailoring, and completing their existing wardrobe. If you are interested in having such a seminar take place in your area, with your group, or at your conference please contact Rosana Vollmerhausen at DC Style Factory.

capsule wardrobe for running for office - What to Wear When Running for Office- The Political Candidate’s Capsule Wardrobe for Women

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  1. This is exactly what I needed! Would you be willing to do an updated post on this, many of the links I found for my favorite no longer work.

  2. Fantastic post! I have one suggestion, though – instead of translucent powder (which can make one look ghostly in pictures), I would recommend going with something like Mally’s Face Defender…it mattifies your skin without leaving any sort of cast. And YES to the oil blotting papers. Both are great to use before hitting a stage—especially if there is any sort of spotlight!

  3. I am trying to reach you for a story I am writing – please contact me at the above email

  4. And I would add that (rightly or wrongly – I know it plays into gender stereotypes) voters like to see female candidates wearing some lighter or brighter colours at least on their upper body. So paler jackets and blouses are useful. While it’s not good that we have to participate in these expectations, I think female candidates need to use whatever strategies will help them get elected!

  5. I’ve been a political candidate here in Australia and hope to be again. One extra piece I would suggest is a polished sundress and cardigan or comfortable skirt and blouse combination that can be worn to school fetes and other daytime community events where you might need to serve behind a counter or give a short speech. This is a combination I often wore and needed.

  6. This is a terrific capsule for many public-facing professional environments (hello, teaching). Thank you SO MUCH (and that black sheath dress with sleeves is truly excellent).

  7. I loved the idea of this article! However, with 10 ad breaks (at least on my mobile version, I counted) throughout the piece, it was a bit distracting from the content. I know that you’ve been tweaking with your layout, just wanted to give you some feedback!

  8. In regards to the question above about products for WOC, if you have the cash and extra time to find your shade, Rihanna’s fenty beauty line of foundation has 40 shades. It’s the only brand that has ever matched my skin perfectly and it has a matte finish, so it’s great for photos and interviews to combat that oily look! Fenty also has a couple simple lipsticks/lip gloss that can be a nice touch to any outfit and look good on all skin tones.

    In terms of hair, curly and kinky hair should be deep conditioned (I do it once a week) to prevent dryness and breakage, it will look smooth and healthy. You can find relatively cheap conditioning packets in beauty stores and target. I would also caution WOC with curls or kinks that want to go the straight hair route if that’s something they haven’t done before. Not worth the damage to adhere to such beauty standards.

    If you’re low on cash which I know many candidates are, I often go to thrift stores in high-income suburbs and can get practically brand new name brand professional garments. You could probably obtain this whole capsule wardrobe from Savers for $100 and nobody would be the wiser!

  9. Lovely article! I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a capsule wardrobe for an undergraduate business student? It seems like I need a little of everything (casual to formal) but don’t know how to make it all work. Especially on a budget!

  10. Thank you for providing a resource where there wasn’t one! I love that about you.

    Just popping by to ask if you consulted with any Black or brown women for this post…? As a fellow white woman, I know we often lose sight of WOC’s experience being different than ours, and the impact of that erasure is profound even when the intent is inclusion. Small things like makeup sources that work for their skin tones and hair types are meaningful, at a minimum. I don’t know enough about the fashion and cosmetic products shown to say one way or another but I figured I’d at least mention it.

    Our society values WOC even less than WW and one thing WW can do is be aware of our (sometimes inadvertent) participation in the white supremacist patriarchy.

    1. You make as great point. Cicapair may not work with darker skin tones though I know many Latina and Asian women who use and love it. I chose L’Oreal because they have such an extensive range of colors and also celebrate a wide range of skin tones in their advertising. I considered not including beauty/grooming because it’s so specific to skin tone, hair texture, skin type, age, health, and more but after the seminars realized some seemed to be needed. I do plan on updating this post with feedback to make it the best resource possible and your comment helps me do that, thank you!

      1. Mary Kay also has a large variety of skin care products for all skin types and shades. If you don’t have a MK consultant, I can help you find one.

  11. Great and helpful post, thanks! I am so excited about anything that gets more women to run for office!

    I also walked away with a lot of practical tips for myself, a non-politician and practical dresser. thank you!

    I did have a few quick responses related to my own experience as an occasional political donor and as a longtime makeup minimalist:

    I would probably suggest that the jeans be newer looking and less distressed than what you show in your capsule, for this purpose.

    I used to use Maybelline Great Lash and I agree it is the best drugstore mascara and better than many department store brands. A couple of years ago a friend turned me on to They’re Real Mascara which I get at Sephora. I like it even better, and I have heard from other fans that it is even less likely to cause eye irritation for women with sensitivities to makeup (which I don’t have).

    I will check out that L’Oreal Concealer and Cicapair, as I always want to keep my barely-there makeup regime on point! For years, with a lot of success, I have been using Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua Cream Compact, applying it very selectively with a medium sized firm brush to cover up general redness. For blemishes, I use Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer, with a small firm brush. I find both to be long lasting and they don’t Irritate or tend to flake on my quite dry skin. I just apply a couple of minutes after putting on my moisturizer/sunscreen. Both products come in a wide range of colors so I think address many skin tones. The prices may be on the high end, but you do need very little so they tend to last.

    Finally, since we can all use a laugh in the name of women’s empowerment, I submit the parody fashion blog site http://www.ladypockets.com for your amusement. I wish I had a genius grant to give the author so she’d post more often. I love her stuff.

    1. Thanks so much for your suggestions Sara! These are great! I fully agree with you on the denim, but darker colors didn’t translate as well online, looking more like pants. I hope the words and links will help readers make the right choice. And thank you for sharing Ladypockets, that is amazing!!

  12. What a thoughtful post. Being a woman, especially a woman stepping into the public eye is complex. No matter how many women run for office and are elected, we will be judged on our appearance in a way men are not. I hope that potential women candidates for public office will find this useful in removing , or at least lowering, a barrier that may stand in the way. Thanks, Allie!

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