Ask the Edit: For the Candidate’s Partner

Dec 28, 2018

Politics is a weird industry.  Whether you’re staff, the candidate or the spouse, what you wear conveys a message.  And if you put in all the hard work of doing the real work, you don’t want your clothes to get in the way.

Hi Abra,

I’m a long time fan of the blog and frequently look to you for advice on workwear. However, I’m writing to ask for advice on what to wear in a different arena – political campaigning.

My partner is planning a run for city council in our mid-size, progressive, southern city. We’ve attended a few casual fundraising events so far, and I never felt like I hit the right note. I’m trying for a modern look that communicates competence, approachability, and that I’m a young woman with a career of her own who also supports her partner’s political aspirations.

I have a few more months to prepare before campaigning really begins, and I’m willing to purchase a few key pieces to carry me throughout the campaign (budget ~$600). Please send help!

Rachael

In politics, what you wear depends on where you live, what event you’re attending, and which office you’re running for.

Where: Every part of the country has a uniform.  Wherever you live, look at what your neighbors are wearing.  In Seattle, Patagucci puffers are the norm.  In Montana, I might wear boots.  In Virginia, I might have on a J.Crew cable sweater and pearl earrings.

As the candidate or the spouse, you take that uniform up one notch.  Your look should be pulled together but effortless.

What: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a candidate or a spouse show up to a casual event way overdressed.  Looking good does not always mean dressing up.  Don’t be the woman in a cocktail dress at an afternoon barbecue.  Or the guy sweating in the sun in a blazer at a parade.

If you’re going to fair, think about what you would normally wear to the fair and find a nicer alternative.  At a fair in Spokane, I would choose a pair of colored denim (maybe a coral) and a white eyelet blouse with some simple sandals.  Just a nicer, more pulled together version of what I’d typically wear.

Which: Running for U.S. Senate? Dress a little nicer because people have higher expectations for a top of ballot race.  Running for city council?  You’re closer to the voters, so your attire should likely reflect that.  Down the ballot, you’re one of them.  Up the ballot, you’re one of them with slightly better clothes.

The point of all of this is one thing: You want to fit in, but leave a good impression.  Choosing classic pieces that can be worn with versatility in many different arenas is never wrong.  Let’s suggest some outfits that work in many different arenas.

***

The Simple Navy Dress. The great thing about an easy, navy dress is that you can wear it to anything with different accessories.  This J.Crew Boatneck Sheath is a good choice because the a-line shape can be both relaxed and dressy.

For a relaxed look, have a simple stud earring and an easy flat shoe.  For a dressy look, grab a pump and a great necklace.

A Crisp Poplin Shirt. Another extremely versatile piece.  Choose white or blue, but a cotton button-up is an easy piece for most events.  This Everlane Relaxed Poplin shirt is a great quality shirt for just $55.

For a business casual event, a pair of gray trousers would be nice.  To jazz it up, cobalt would also be lovely.  Going to a casual event?  They also look great with a rolled up sleeve and a chino short.

A Cool, Relaxed Jacket. The bulk of the campaigning for a general race happens in fall.  And most of it happens outside.  You’re knocking doors, dropping lit, etc. and you need to be comfortable a look good.

This utility jacket from L.L. Bean is one of my best purchases ever.  It comes in shearling lined and one for nicer weather with no liner.  The unlined jacket is available in misses, petite, and plus.

***

Other options would include comfortable footwear, a hairstyle that you like that you can style easily yourself, and lipstick that makes you feel powerful.  We can talk about this more in the future, but these are just a few of my most versatile suggestions.

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  1. JeSs says:

    That navy sheath is stunning. So classic!

  2. Drago Cucina says:

    There’s a phrase that I read once, dressing “one click” above. It encapsulates what was written by Abra. It sets you as a person of authority, but not that you think you’re better than everyone else or trying too hard. This has served me well when speaking to community groups, government meetings, etc.

    • Dee says:

      Also this is good advice for the unique position of spouse/partner – you aren’t the one running, you are likely to be on stage/up front/on camera/in the photo, but you need to look like a background person, too.
      It’s gotta be tough. Good luck!

  3. KiraW says:

    For midsize, Southern cities, I’d also google campaign pictures from Abigail Spanberger’s campaign in Richmond. She’s one in recent memory who mostly got it right as far as campaign dress goes.

    • Cindi says:

      I think the suggestion to look up an actual candidate’s photos is a great idea. Although I’m not involved in politics, I looked up Ms. Spanbarger and totally got the look concept.

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