This research examines four stateswomen fashion icons—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana, Princess of Wales, Michelle Obama, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge—and the way these stateswomen used clothing and personal style to create a public identity. Dress is a powerful tool of personal expression and identity creation and when we look at stateswoman style, we see the ways that dress gives them agency to negotiate the “official” identity that’s being placed on them. Personal style is the way we use personal adornments (clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, etc.) to form messages about who we are, who we dream we could be, and what our personal values are. It is a system of communication with rhetorical influence on others that, in return, offers a way to embrace, challenge, or subvert societal expectations and cultural norms. The choice to embrace, challenge, or subvert to the expectations is fluid, and the women continuously move back and forth between these states. I argue for the ways the selected women in this analysis make choices and negotiate such expectations on the national stage through their clothing choices.
While personal style does not construct our identities on its own, our dress is often the first indicator of our identity and personality. Dress, therefore, becomes one way to express our identity, even in situations where we are otherwise silenced. Stateswomen are “not body as advertisement”—as celebrities are—but “body as a source of agency.” For every woman, stateswomen included, clothing is a rhetorical statement that they make every day. These women exemplify the way choices can be made powerfully—because they are “like us” more than fashion icons. These stateswomen icons show the public evolving negotiations between personal and public style and identity. They demonstrate the ways that clothing choices can be empowering ways to construct identity and use clothing as an identity statement. This is instrumental in helping average women of the public learn how they can use clothing as a rhetorical statement that creates agency and identity.
- More than a pretty dress: rhetoric of style & identity construction of stateswomen fashion icons