Long since before Jackie Kennedy became a fashion icon, the First Lady has been the center of sartorial discussion: At James Madison’s 1809 inauguration, his wife Dolley wore a buff-colored velvet gown with pearls and a feather-accented turban. “She looked a Queen,” wrote Margaret Bayard Smith, writer and early Washington social gadfly. “It would be absolutely impossible for any one to behave with more perfect propriety than she did.”
Now with Hillary Clinton as the first female candidate of a major party for president of the United States, crowdsourcing fashion platform Betabrand is flipping the focus to First Gentleman style via a new contest.
With a template called the “Bill Clinton starter kit,” aspiring Christian Sirianos can sketch styles by hand or virtually construct designs for submission. Sample entries on the site include menswear versions of Michelle Obama’s best looks, such as a Jason Wu-inspired ensemble.
Chris Lindland, founder and CEO of Betabrand, said the idea for the contest largely came through the company’s efforts as a “fashion first-responder,” reacting to online chatter and trending topics in an effort to prototype them.
“If the style world constantly hounds First Ladies and pays attention to whatever they’re wearing, it only makes sense that they would do the same for men,” Lindland said. “As fashion futurists, it’s our job to prepare for this eventuality.”
The contest officially launched on August 1 and designs will be accepted through August 11. Voting will commence through the end of the month, and the winner will receive a customized oil painting of them as president.
Though the announcement was made in Betabrand’s newsletter last week, Lindland noted he has already received anti-Clinton sentiment.
“We’re all aware of the phenomenon of First Lady style watching. For whatever reason it’s been the principal avenue of reporting anything about the First Lady, which in my opinion diminished the role,” he said.
Betabrand is also finding ways to update the women’s pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton. In a post on the site, Bethany Mueleners, head of womenswear design at Betabrand, notes that the pantsuit has had little updates since the days of “Ally McBeal.” The post has more than 40 comments from members of the design community weighing in with thoughts.
The Bill Clinton starter kit is also, of course, a comment on the myopic view Americans have historically taken towards the First Lady. While it is unlikely the focus on the First Gentleman will home in on his style, it’s fun to imagine that it will.
“Will it rob the fashion world of a constant source of content? Or do they flip the script and start focusing more narrowly on men’s style? That remains to be seen,” he said.