Expect Hillary Clinton to be a smart dresser who knows her own mind The next First lady of fashion?

December 17, 1992|By Jill Gerston | Jill Gerston,Contributing Writer

The day before her wedding, Hillary Clinton sauntered into Dillard's department store and bought her bridal dress, a simple, white linen Victorian number, right off the rack.

Even now, 17 years later, the word on the next first lady is that being a clotheshorse isn't high on her list of priorities.

"There are more pressing things for her to do than dress up like Vogue," said Sarah Phillips, who designed the pale yellow silk suit Mrs. Clinton wore on the night of her husband's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention.

"She doesn't put a lot of emphasis on clothes," added Kelle Mills, a sales associate at Barbara-Jean Ltd., the Little Rock, Ark., boutique where Mrs. Clinton has been a long-time customer. "And if I were the famous designers, I wouldn't be getting too excited about having Mrs. Clinton endorse one of them. She likes to stick with people she's known for a long time."

In fact, the constellation of New York stars who have begun showering the future first lady with designs for her inaugural wardrobe may be left in the dark. According to Lisa Caputo, Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, no decision has been made on the inauguration outfits.

However, Mrs. Clinton has remarked that since "it's a special day for her and the state of Arkansas," a hometown favorite may beat out Seventh Avenue's big guns. (Connie Fails, an Arkansas designer and friend, may be the front-runner.)

Regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton, 44, cares a hoot about hemlines, for the next four years she'll be the poster girl for American fashion. With her photograph appearing everywhere from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette to Paris Match, she's bound to spark trends (and hopefully ignite a lackluster garment industry). Look what Barbara Bush did for pearls, what Mamie Eisenhower did for bangs and what Jackie Kennedy did for just about everything.

"Like it or not, Hillary's 'it' from now on," said Robin Weir, the Washington hairdresser who tended Nancy Reagan's stiffly lacquered tresses. "People will want to emulate her, not only because she's the first lady but because she has the youth, the figure and the hair." Already, several of well-coiffed Weir clients have requested Mrs. Clinton's honey blonde highlights.

If Rosalynn Carter, who brought a sewing machine to the White House, represented the nadir of style and Nancy Reagan epitomized the over-the-top extravagance of the '80s, Hillary Clinton falls somewhere between the two extremes.

She's a size 8 who prefers medium-priced labels to sky-high designer tags. She likes soft tailored suits and classic coatdresses, yet is adventurous enough to wear black opaque hose, which is considered pretty racy in conservative Washington.

She shuns orphanage-drab colors like gray and black in favor of vivid shades of red, cobalt and pink. She kicks back in jeans, a baseball cap and ponytail. And though she isn't averse to glamorizing her image, she won't be dictated to: Her much-maligned velvet headband, banished during the campaign, has quietly returned.

"She's a terrific role model for the fortysomething set who are wives, mothers and career women," says Dana Buchman, who designed several of the streamlined suits Mrs. Clinton wore during the campaign. "She represents the intelligent woman's way of dressing -- tailored and clean-cut, yet soft. And nothing pretentious."

Cliff Chally, the costume designer for "Designing Women" who coordinated Mrs. Clinton's wardrobe for the Democratic convention, agrees.

" 'Classic' is the word that comes to mind when I think of Mrs. Clinton," he says. "She doesn't like fussy clothes and everything has to be comfortable."

Mr. Chally, along with Beverly Hills hairdresser Christophe, revved up Mrs. Clinton's look at the behest of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the producer of "Designing Women" and "Hearts of Fire," and a close friend of the Clinton family.

For months on the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton had been criticized as an overbearing, carer-oriented lawyer, "a Lady Macbeth in a black preppy headband." To silence her detractors, Mrs. Clinton was eased into a less prominent, more traditional role. A month before the convention she was put into a more sophisticated wardrobe and a shorter, sleeker hairdo.

"I didn't really change her image," said Mr. Chally. "It was more a matter of pulling clothes from her closet and coordinating them so everything was 'camera ready' from the minute she arrived at the convention."

With a few exceptions, most of Mrs. Clinton's convention wardrobe was plucked from her own closet that contained, according to Mr. Chally, lots of classic separates and very few printed silk dresses.

The convention wasn't the first time Mrs. Clinton's style was revamped. When her husband sought a second term as governor of Arkansas, she swapped thick glasses for contact lenses, streaked her brown hair blond and exchanged her hippie outfits for a more fashionable wardrobe in an attempt to win over voters skeptical of her Yale law school background and assertive manner.

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