In terms of the bigger picture of what just happened this past weekend, it seems a bit silly and shallow to discuss what was worn by those attending the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Clearly, there are bigger issues going on than who wore what and which designer dressed whom. I get it.
However, I am a personal stylist, even when I am not consciously thinking about it, my brain goes on auto-pilot and I style people in my head. This past weekend there was a lot going on, from Melania Trump’s absolutely stunning powder blue suit to the Woody Woodpecker disaster of an outfit that Kellyanne Conway wore. Yes, these two woman stole the show, for better or for worse. However, I found myself more obsessed with Karen Pence’s style, and I’m not just referring to that repurposed wedding gown. I am talking about her style in general which, with all due respect, needs some help.
In today’s post, I want to address Karen Pence’s style as if I was speaking to her directly about what I would do with it now that she has stepped into the role as Second Lady of the United States.
Karen Pence, I am coming for you….with a big rolling rack of clothing in tow.
Karen Pence’s Style: What I would Do Differently
Dear Mrs. Pence (or is it Second Lady Pence now?),
This past weekend, you were thrust into the spotlight with your inaugural gown choice when it looked like you repurposed your wedding dress. A cool idea, no doubt, and I think it was awesome that you went back to your home state and employed a small local business to create it, but it was an idea that, sadly, failed pretty miserably. Blog posts and Twitter were relentless and vicious about what you wore and, I assure you, I am not writing this post to you with the same malicious intent.
As someone who took advantage of Planned Parenthood’s services in my early 20’s for my gynecological care, and who, in return, has donated money back to the organization, who will always stand for the rights of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters of this great country, believes climate change is real, and is, let’s be honest, a bit afraid of your husband, you and I have opposing views on many things. However, I also respect and support the right that all Americans have; to believe what they do as long as they don’t take those rights away from another individual. Therefore, I have gladly worked with many clients over the years whose beliefs I don’t agree with. Despite you and I not being on the same page with many issues, I am still reaching out because I think you can use a little assistance in an area where I am an expert.
Doing some research on you, I learned that you were an educator for more than twenty years. Coming from a family of educators, I have always said that teachers do God’s work and commend you on your chosen profession. I also learned that you minored in art in college and are a watercolor painter. As a student of fine arts myself, and being someone who works in a creative field, I sincerely hope you support the arts as Second Lady. I have read you plan to advocate for art therapy in your new role, which I think is fantastic. Lastly, I read that you were also a small business owner, like I am, and created a towel charm line.
Getting to my point, over the past few months that I have gotten to know you, your style has stood out to me as someone who can use some tweaking. I am getting the sense that style and fashion just aren’t in your wheelhouse. I mean no disrespect by saying this. My career has been built on women who share your struggle. Trust me, you’re more the norm than the exception. My impression is also that, in terms of relative importance, this isn’t high on your priority list. Fair point, but not one that I completely agree with.
Personal image and style is one of the strongest forms of communication we possess. It communicates who we are, our goals and our message to others more strongly than the words we speak. This is why so often my clients come to me when they are transitioning to more public roles, bigger job positions and are becoming more visible. Look at it this way, no matter how you look, what you wear will always be communicating something. Wouldn’t you rather it be positive than negative?
I also think you have a great opportunity to be aspirational with your style. While many are looking to Melania Trump as this physically perfect specimen who could wear a potato sack and look good, there is probably a .001% chance that anyone will ever look as good in clothing as she does; making her terribly hard to relate to. Sure, over the next several years we can expect that all eyes will be on Melania to see what she is wearing, but we will do it knowing that we will never be able to wear clothes as well as she can.
You, on the other hand, are a much more relatable and accessible representation of the average woman in this country. While this may not be a role you signed on for, it’s part of what it means to be in the public eye. Given your average and normal body size and height, along with, I am sure, your own body struggles that you deal with daily, it will be interesting to see how you tackle them as you step into this more prominent role. I will be watching and am quite curious to see how it all unfolds.
I have had a policy since starting my business in 2002 that I never approach a woman if I thought she needed style help. My feeling has always been that a woman has to feel ready to make changes. I have also been incredibly sensitive to how receiving this type of information might feel. However, if you would indulge me a bit, I am going to share a few past images of what you have worn with my thoughts on what I would have done differently, while also suggesting a few looks and shopping ideas that I would present to you if I was your stylist. While this might come across as a bit insensitive, I am also expecting that a lot of readers of this post will find the advice enlightening for their own wardrobes. Remember I said I thought you could be aspirational? I wasn’t kidding. Let’s take a look at some of the outfits.
When you and your husband met the Bidens
I hate to say it, but I really didn’t like this outfit. While I think you can wear bold prints because of your coloring, it was the jacket and the dress together that was a misstep. The clasp and round neckline of the jacket fought the v-neckline of the dress and created a distraction. I also didn’t love the shorter a-line shape of dress either. You have great legs (did you know there is a YouTube video devoted to your legs?) and you are petite, making shorter dresses better, but this one looks a bit juvenile and not all that powerful. The shorter, dress paired with the boxy jacket created a squat roundness that didn’t do your body any justice. You have a much better shape than this.
Your Inauguration Outfit
A lot of people got viciously caught up in your repurposed gown look, but I actually found this choice to be more questionable. I don’t know any other way to say it, but it just didn’t look upscale enough for the role your are stepping into. While I do think you will be able to successfully take a page from the former First Lady, and mix high end clothing with low end clothing in your looks, the inauguration just wasn’t the place to not look expensive. The dress just looked a bit flat and ordinary, like you picked it up at a local department store on sale.
I also didn’t like the length of the necklace paired with the neckline of the gown, found the dress a bit unflattering on your body, and even saw your bra strap exposed at the luncheon. I would have loved for you to have worn a small shrug or arm covering to give the outfit some polish. The coat was sort of cool looking, but the sleeves looked too long, the fabric a bit inexpensive and it lacked a certain level of sophistication befitting for the position.
Your repurposed wedding gown
This is the look that likely showed you how cruel and unforgiving the media can be towards what women wear. While I don’t particularly love the final outcome of the outfit, I truly felt bad that it wasn’t a hit. Having heard the story of the hardworking seamstresses from your home state who worked to pull this gown off, I was really hoping for a better turnout for their sakes. As I said earlier, I really loved the concept, but didn’t love the execution. I don’t mind the bottom half as much as I do the top. I just don’t think lace is you and found the sleeves terribly matronly.
Your Bold Blue Inaugural Ball Gown
Reviews seemed mixed on this gown. There were some things I liked and others I didn’t. I liked the color. This color is so perfect for you it’s almost a shame you’re not a Democrat. But, seriously, any deep, bright, cool based jewel tone is your color.
I also didn’t even mind part of the silhouette. What I didn’t love were the shoulder straps. There could have been an alternative way to keep the dress up without the straps. I also didn’t love how full the gown was. You’re a petite woman. Very full skirts and dresses are not your friend. There was just too much fabric (I read half a football field of fabric) at the hem. The wider the hem, the squatter you appear. Not good when you are so small.
If I was your stylist, these would be some of my suggestions
Below you will find some suggestions I have put together based on how I see your style evolving. I chose designers including, Lafayette 148, Armani, Akris Punto and Hugo Boss. While these are on the higher end, I do see you being able to borrow from lower end designers as well because I think a mix of high and low will not only be quite fitting to your personality, but will make you more relatable to other American women in this country.
I see a more modern and sleek style for you with some bold touches. For color, I chose to anchor your wardrobe in black and navy and popped it with jewel tones that are perfect for your skin tone.
Having seen this coat from Armani Collezioni, I know how stunning it is in person. It’s classic with a bit of retro throwback that can also look incredibly modern. I paired it with this bold red BOSS Hugo Boss sheath and colorblocked the look these cobalt slingbacks from Manolo Blahnik. If you are willing to go there, I think you could have a lot of fun with unique color combinations like this. Lastly, I added these long leather gloves from Portolano, black clutch by Chloe, gold Ippolita round earrings and simple Swarovski pearl necklace.
This ruched shirt from Lafayette 148 has been a tremendous hit with so many of my clients. For you, I love the way the shirt has shape while delicately draping the tummy area. It’s a great update to your more classic blouses that you seem to like. To move you from the a-line shapes, I chose this bold jacquard skirt in navy and white, also from Lafayette 148, that I would hem for you just below the knee. The straighter pencil style will give you a longer look. Finishing the outfit, I used these nude pumps from Jimmy Choo to further lengthen your fantastic legs, added an orange pop of color through this statement necklace from Marni, and further finished the outfit with a navy bag from Nancy Gonzalez and cuff from Jennifer Fisher.
For a chic, daytime casual look, I created an outfit that is bold and optic. With your coloring, you can carry this level of contrast. I started with this black and white zipper jacket from Lafayette 148 and layered a black and white intarsia sweater from Armani underneath it. For pants, I used Akris Punto’s Franca pants, which I have yet to see anyone look bad in, and finished the outfit with a pair of suede Louboutin flats in black, a black Chloe crossbody bag, silver hoop earrings from Shinola and a bright pink scarf for a splash of color.
This Armani dress is another style I have recently seen on and it is stunning. I chose this dress for you because it delicately shapes the waist while being forgiving. I have surmised that your tummy may be your body area of concern, but, at the same time, you need shape to look more proportionate. This is a modest style that will flatter your figure and be very easy to wear.
To give the dress a sophisticated finish, I added these magenta low heeled pumps from Jimmy Choo, a beige bag from Marc Jacobs, two-toned purple earrings from Ippolita and the same Jennifer Fisher bracelet I used earlier.
This Lafayette 148 jacket is a style that someone with your coloring can pull off magnificently. It’s modern, sharp while not being too young. Throw a simple tank underneath it and you can be done. I styled the jacket with these pants, also from Lafayette 148, the orange Marni necklace I used earlier, these black slingbacks from Manolo Blahnik, and black and white bag from Brunello Cucinelli.
One last thing. Your hair
I’m not a hairstylist. I cut my bangs once in high school and that was the end of my hair cutting days. I’m good at hair suggestions, I just can’t execute them. If I were you, I’d cut into that bob style you currently have. I wouldn’t stray too far from what seems to be your signature hairstyle, but I would cut some layers into it to bring it up to date a bit. It just needs some shape and some sharp layers. I think it would be incredible to see what a few layers could do.
Of course, my hair and style suggestions are merely that, suggestions. If you are currently happy with the way you are dressing, Mrs. Pence, then I’m all for you sticking with it. I’m already preparing for an onslaught of comments from those who think I am out of line for criticizing your style while also preparing for comments from those so against the current administration they will consider me some sort of traitor to my gender for writing this. Nobody likes to be called out for something that can use improvement, so if you ever do read this I hope you understand that it is with nothing but graciousness that I am presenting these thoughts regardless of our differing views.