Akshata Murty, Jill Biden and the First Lady style formula for a vote-winning outfit

“Behind every man, there is a great woman,” or so the saying goes. In today’s politics, however, the “big lady” is taking center stage – and never more so in an election year, when the wealthiest male politicians seem to be realizing that they may not their biggest vote-winner, in fact, their fiscal policies, but their wife’s style credentials.

The phrase “politician’s wife” has always felt somewhat derogatory, implying a second-class status not enjoyed by women like Cherie Blair, a respected human rights lawyer, or Samantha Cameron, a successful businesswoman .

Accomplished in their own right, today’s political spouses need the more subtle “first lady” descriptor – Americanism, yes, but one that befits the more important role and status of these women.

With elections looming in the United Kingdom, France and the United States, all eyes are increasingly trained on the campaign clothing choices of First Ladies Akshata Murty, Brigitte Macron and Jill Biden. All three have never looked more polished.

Accompanied by her husband to a diplomatic dinner in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Dr Jill Biden was every inch a diplomat in a deep blue velvet Schiaparelli gown.

Dr Jill Biden wore a deep blue velvet Schiaparelli

Dr. Jill Biden wore a deep velvet Schiaparelli blue – getty

Founded in Paris by Elsa Schiaparelli – Italian – in 1927, the label is known in France for its Surrealist designs. Because its current creative director, Daniel Roseberry, is American, the dress is a patriotic choice that pays homage to French fashion at the same time.

Bonus points that her color represented the color of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Brigitte Macron flew the French fashion flag in a white Louis Vuitton dress adorned with statement buttons.

Brigitte Macron wore Louis Vuitton for the serviceBrigitte Macron wore Louis Vuitton for the service

Brigitte Macron wore Louis Vuitton to the state dinner – getty

When it comes to finding a style formula, diplomatic dressing is becoming more prominent for today’s first ladies. Although many countries would probably claim to have pioneered the concept, the UK certainly played a big part.

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II was an extraordinary diplomatic dresser, often incorporating the colors, prints and cultures of her host country through her wardrobe.

With more freedom to wear designer labels than the Queen, the Princess of Wales pioneered the concept, often choosing to wear designers from the country she was visiting, as well as showcasing British labels to patriotism abroad.

It’s no surprise that leading ladies have borrowed a few tricks from the royal playbook. After all, no one is more used to global public scrutiny than royalty. Most modern women would agree that, although not without its sartorial challenges, the international stage is a great opportunity to promote homegrown fashion brands.

The Princess of Wales at the Rugby World Cup in France last yearThe Princess of Wales at the Rugby World Cup in France last year

The Princess of Wales at the Rugby World Cup in France last year – getty

But the idea that any brash first lady can sneak clothes into a suitcase and leave is wild. When you have explored all your options, you need professional help that is discreet – very discreet. Brigitte Macron is said to work with Mathieu Barthelat Colin, while Jill Biden enlists the services of stylist Bailey Moon.

During her six years as a special adviser to Samantha Cameron, image consultant Isabel Spearman did a lot to promote small British brands internationally, helping to boost sales.

While reports that Spearman is currently mentoring Akshata Murty in a similar vein remain unconfirmed, there is nothing in Murty’s current style formula to disprove them.

Like Mrs Cameron, the Prime Minister’s wife Sunak knows exactly when to flex her fashion muscles, and also when to dial them down.

Case in point: the forties-inspired boucle top dress she wore to the D-Day commemorations in Normandy, designed by Shropshire-based Claire Mischevani.

Akshata Murty with her husband, Prime Minister Rishi SunakAkshata Murty with her husband, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Akshata Murty with her husband, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, wearing a suit by Claire Mischevani – Chris Jackson

“Elegance is key, along with respectable dressing,” says Mischevani of the style template she adhered to when designing Murty’s D-Day outfit. “Colors and styles have to be chosen carefully, so that the outfit makes our client feel her best on a world stage.”

While the four-figure price of her outfit will do nothing to woo Murty to minimum wage voters, her previous outfit, a blush pink jacket by London high street label Aligne, was priced better at a more accessible £165.

This financial form of fashion diplomacy was largely spearheaded by Michelle Obama, who was a skilled practitioner of high/low dressing during her husband’s presidency (2009-2017), always careful to buy expensive designer labels offset by more affordable purchases from the US high street. .

While she did a lot to stand out for independent US designers such as Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung, it’s notable that one of her most remembered garments is a simple cardigan from US high street retailer J Crew.

Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama

As First Lady, Michelle Obama was known for her high/low clothes

With the help of her stylist, Meredith Koop, she looked glamorous, but she was changeable. It’s a blueprint that seems inspired by Samantha Cameron, Carrie Johnson and Akshata Murty, to name just three.

As the wives of Conservative Prime Ministers, it is perhaps no accident that these first ladies are careful not to dress in a way that might further the idea that the Tory party is out of touch with the average Briton.

Carrie Johnson is such a fan of dress hire agencies that she married Boris Johnson in 2021, even renting her wedding dress.

Its price tag was worth £45 in PR gold. Meanwhile, Akshata Murty carefully teams her Gucci with mid-market labels such as Boden and Me + Em.

Carrie JohnsonCarrie Johnson

Carrie Johnson’s wedding dress rental was a publicity coup – Rebecca Fulton/Downing Street via Getty Images

In France, there is no such concern about fitting in with the electorate. Brigitte Macron’s chic, understated Louis Vuitton wardrobe is completely unapologetically worn, as was her predecessor, Carla Bruni.

At 71, Macron’s penchant for smart little suits and smartly chosen couture dresses has become a style icon among older women. It doesn’t matter that France is going through its own cost of living crisis: regardless of the price tag, the attitude is that French fashion should be celebrated at all costs.

When it comes to nailing the modern first lady style, it helps if the women in question already have theirs. When London Fashion Week designer JW Anderson spotted Akshata Murty off duty in a pair of £570 slippers, it was an organic choice, rather than one curated by a stylist.

These eclectic choices suggest that Murty enjoys fashion, and is confident in her own ability to mix and match. It’s the same for Samantha Cameron, whose job as Smythson’s creative director meant she considered designers like Erdem and Roksanda personal friends long before her husband became Prime Minister.

When elected in 2010, she understandably turned to these and other British designers for her wardrobe. Her love of bright colors and bold prints ushered in a new era of first lady dressing that was more experimental than previously seen in the UK.

Mischevani believes that social media has contributed to the situation. “Views are always scrutinized because of different social media platforms around the world. There is definitely more pressure on the designers, stylists and their clients to make sure they are wearing pieces that are flattering, stylish and appropriate for the occasion.”

David and Samantha CameronDavid and Samantha Cameron

Samantha Cameron’s penchant for bright colors and bold prints paved the way for a ‘new era’ of diplomatic dressing – Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

But even without the added pressure of social media, commenting on women’s wardrobe choices for the first time has become an international sport.

“Like it or not, when you’re in politics, or in any public role, you’re on display, and women in particular will be scrutinized,” says one former newspaper editor.

“There is definitely more interest and variety in what women wear than the cut of the black suit of the President or the Prime Minister. Coverage may be becoming less overtly sexual, but whatever your gender, optics matter more than ever.”

In 1995, Hillary Clinton said: “If I want a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”.

Almost 30 years later, her point has never felt more relevant.

The most successful first ladies act as diplomats and distractions, patriots and hostesses, fashion ambassadors and vote winners. Politics would be much smaller without them.

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