Robin Givhan deftly parsed would-be First Lady Callista Gingrich’s “prissy” style for the Daily Beast yesterday. Let’s face it: people—especially women, who are generally more aware of how clothes telegraph messages—make judgments based on what other people are wearing and how they do their hair. Sometimes they’re wrong, sometimes they are altered or expanded upon later—but it’s disingenuous to suggest that this shouldn’t be a valid topic of conversation for a style writer. How we style ourselves (or don’t) is generally a reflection of who we are as well as a statement of who we think we are. It can say a lot or a little—but it says something.
Callista’s helmet hair has attracted attention before, but Givhan goes further, inferring the message sent by her anachronistic ‘do and stiff suits. In an era in which women generally prefer to look casually, effortlessly put together—even if in truth it took them hours—Gingrich’s “many style tics—stacked one atop the other—read as code for narcissism, self-indulgence, and brittle self-absorption. . . . In Mrs. Gingrich’s case, style implies a social hierarchy that, far from exuding empathy, reflects the haughty airs of noblesse oblige.”
Does that seem like a lot to read into an old-lady hair style and a preference for sharp tailoring? Maybe. But in politics today, every word, move, and facial expression is scrutinized for meaning. As a longtime resident in this high-stakes environment, Newt Gingrich is surely aware of this, and therefore his wife must surely be as well. We can be reasonably confident that she knows that her immovable coiffure says something about her. But like the one percenters who are still bewildered by the spreading anger and frustration around the country, she may not entirely understand what it is.