Halter tops and snakeskin on the runway at GOP fashion show

From runway to beltway
Politicians in town for the Republican National Convention took some time out for fashion.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Republicans were treated to speeches by everyone from President George Bush to Senator Norm Coleman Tuesday night.

During the day, though, it was actress and Dancing with the Stars contestant Lisa Rinna addressing the politicians.

"Alright, are you ready?"

While the evening was all about party platform, the afternoon leaned more towards platform shoes.

Lisa Rinna
Actress Lisa Rinna flew in to host the event.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

"I think you have to have fun with fashion ladies, you really do," Rinna said.

About 50 female Republicans gathered at the Mall of America Tuesday for a fashion show and fundraiser for battered women.

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Convention delegates along with mayors, governors and congresswomen all watched as tall, skinny models strutted and twirled and posed under the bright runway lights -- lights that, by the way, were purple, green and yellow -- a bit of a disappointment to those who anticipated red, white and blue.

"This is Angie," Rinna said as she introduced a model. "She's wearing a fitted denim suit with an animal print halter top. And she's got a snakeskin clutch."

Of course, even mentioning the wardrobe choices of a congresswoman can be perceived as sexist -- or frivolous. And some would argue that focusing on the fashion sense of a female senator does nothing but undermine her talents and qualifications. But don't try telling that to South Carolina Rep. Joan Brady.

Swinging style
Female elected officials say politicians don't have to limit their wardrobes to dark-colored pantsuits.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

"We're women and most women enjoy fashion," Brady said.

The way she sees it, politics and panache aren't mutually exclusive.

"You want to be stylishly dressed because I think that brings a lot of attention to you in a positive way if people think, 'Well, she knows what's going on in terms of style,' " Brady said.

To be clear, most of those seated around the runway will be spending the majority of this week inside the Xcel Energy Center tackling official GOP business.

"Now doesn't mean we aren't very concerned about our elected women and how they look," said Robin Read, president and CEO of the National Foundation for Women Legislators. "You do need to look like you're an authority. You don't need to look like you're a man."

Political style
RNC delegates came to check out the fall fashions.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Read, an Iowa resident, wears a yellow-and-red plaid blazer and what some might call a miniskirt. She'll proudly tell you she's 70 years old. And she said she's blessed to be living in a time when female elected officials are no longer expected to don lacquered hairstyles and dark-colored power suits.

"Geraldine Ferraro is a very good friend of mine," Read said. "When she ran, you had to wear a buster brown thing at your neck and a demure jacket. That's not true today. When Hillary Clinton ran, the more exciting the color, the more exciting it was. And it will be exciting to see (Alaska Gov.) Sarah Palin, who's so terribly attractive, evolve."

If they take note of the fashions on stage, Republican women will soon be sporting soy cardigans, puff-sleeved tops, gypsy skirts and four-inch, purple heels. And they'll be carrying metallic crocodile handbags.

But there's one thing they won't be wearing: blue pant suits. Too Hillary Clinton, said Brady.

"I had on a red suit yesterday on the convention floor," she said. " 'Reagan red' is very popular with Republicans. I have not brought any blue. I have mostly red with me for this week."

Super sales
Many Republican legislators were looking forward to checking out the shopping options in the Twin Cities -- given that there is no sales tax on clothing here.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

When asked if women on the Democratic side of the aisle dress differently than those of the Republican persuasion, most here responded with a resounding 'yes'. According to one fashion show attendee, one who wished not to be named, Republican style is much classier.

"There's a refinement element to it."

A refinement which, according to her, the Democrats just can't seem to pull off.