Nikki Haley Wears Skirts

In a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates, Nikki R. Haley is starting to stand out. That, however, appears to be the fate of voters, pollsters and donors alike, who have helped bolster his numbers since he first entered the debate stage in August. She’s gotten high enough that “Saturday Night Live” has begun preparing Haley’s character in earnest.

But as the third debate – and, perhaps, the beginning of Ms. Haley as an “SNL” character – comes close, it has to be seen how cleverly she uses the fact that she is suddenly prominent, even before she opens her mouth to show off. his foreign policy experience, or scold his competitor, for his own benefit.

Yes, I am talking about sex. Being a woman is always seen as something you have to carry in the presidential race. Mrs. Haley uses it as an asset. He declared, in the first debate, as his opponents jeered, “That’s why Margaret Thatcher said, ‘If you want something said, ask the man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’”

And where is that woman? Just open your eyes and watch.

At that first debate, surrounded by seven men who wore exactly the same clothes — blue suits, white shirts, red ties, little flag aprons, otherwise known as Donald J. Trump’s incoherent political uniform — Ms. Haley was an artist. a beacon in a blue bouclé skirt suit and high heels.

At the second interview, with men dressed almost identically (Tim Scott wore a red and navy striped tie at the time), he was there, wearing a crimson silk shantung and pumps. And chances are, as the field narrows in the third debate, such divisions will become even more visible.

“Political campaigns are about division,” said Cheri Bustos, a former congresswoman from Illinois, who said she wore skirts and heels in her first campaign, when she was the only woman in a field of six. “The candidates are looking at all the possibilities. Nikki Haley took advantage of this situation.”

And she’s done it while defying conventional wisdom when it comes to women running for office. You know, the belief that pants should be the uniform of choice for women and men, it’s better to go along with the group and downplay the whole gender issue.

Hillary Clinton, of course, was the ultimate champion of the pantsuit, though she swapped her rainbow for a signature black pantsuit when she was on the debate stage in 2016, only compared to a white suffragist after winning the nomination and setting the tone. that has defined the political wardrobe of American women ever since.

Indeed, with the 2020 election cycle Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson sticking almost entirely to the dress code, Ms. Harris in black suits and Ms. Since Ms. When Harris became vice president, he wore black pants almost entirely.

But Ms. Haley wears skirts. And not just any old skirts: knee-length skirts. A type of skirt that is often called “demure,” which raises the legs to the ankle, and traditional gender roles. The irony is that, in taking this classic woman’s dress in this context, it looks acceptable and strong at the same time.

After all, you don’t fool someone wearing pants. So why not up the ante and wear something your competitors can’t?

Besides, the pantsuit is part of the Democratic convention. Republican women have largely cut the sheath dress-skirt tradition in presidential politics. When Sarah Palin was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, she wore skirts and skirt suits for most of her public appearances, including her debate with Joe Biden. Ditto Elizabeth Dole in 2000 in her presidential run.

Many Republican candidates seem to buy into the idea, which Mr. Trump when he was in office, that the women who worked for him should “dress like women,” in the most general sense. Although the explanation of Ms. Haley of that view is less of a Fox News presenter and a Thatcherite. (Ms. Haley titled her 2022 book on women’s leadership “If You Want Something Done.”)

However, clichés, often shared, are also a subtle way for Ms. Haley to plant seeds in the minds of viewers without anyone noticing what is happening. “His presentation adds to his credibility,” said Frank Luntz, a political communications strategist. “His rhetorical technique and his visual technique are mutually exclusive.”

Mrs. Haley may have been swayed in his positions by Mr. Trump and his transgressions, especially the storming of the Capitol in Jan. 6, but he has always stuck to some important principles, at least when it comes to his image: color. , heels, a skirt or a dress (if not at the Iowa State Fair, where she wore jeans). She grew up working in her mother’s clothing store in Bamberg, SC. ​​Her husband is a commissioned officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard, currently serving in Africa. He understands the impact of the uniform.

Another of his favorite lines, which first came out in 2012 when he was governor of South Carolina, is about his love of shoes. “I wear high heels, and it’s not a fashion statement — it’s about character,” she said at the time, adding: “I have an all-male Senate.” Do I want to use these for kicks? Sometimes I do.”

She also used the line, with a few edits, when she spoke to the US Public Affairs Committee in 2017: “I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we will always kick them.”

Then she made the headlines of her February announcement video: “You have to know this about me: I don’t tolerate bullies, and when you back down, it hurts more when you’re wearing heels.” And last week, he discussed it on “The Daily Show” in reference to re-emerging rumors that Ron DeSantis wore lifts in his cowboy boots to make himself taller — allegations that the DeSantis campaign has denied but his opponents, particularly Mr. they embraced happily.

When Charlamagne Tha God, the host of the show, asked if Ms. Will Haley wear higher shoes than Mr. DeSantis to be tall, Ms. Haley replied: “I always said, ‘Don’t dress up. if you can’t run ’em, then we’ll see if he can run ’em.

It’s probably no coincidence that Tom Broecker, the costume designer for “House of Cards” (and “SNL”), says he always dressed Robin Wright Penn’s character in stiletto heels when he was president.

“He felt in control when he opened them,” said Mr. Broecker. “High heels make you walk, and stand, in a certain way, as if you could go toe-to-toe with someone.”

Given the cloud of suspicion hanging over the shoes of Mr. DeSantis, and what they may reveal about his insecurities, it’s not a bad time to have a center with a pair of shoes. Like Hillary Clinton, who after years of resisting discussion about her clothes, finally started joking about it and thus making it a problem for her to be used again, Ms. She owns the heels in this race as she owns the skirt.

It may seem like a small detail, but it’s starting to become telling.