You Can Buy Hillary Clinton’s Debate Lipstick for Your Next Important Negotiation
It would be nice if we lived in a world in which people in the public eye could opt to just not give a shit about their appearances if they felt like it, but we don’t, and nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton. Can you imagine what would happen if she showed up to a debate with messy hair or imperfect makeup, or even no makeup? It would be a disaster. That hasn’t come up, though, because after a decades-long political career, Clinton has mastered the art of looking powerful and competent in exactly the sort of way people expect from a woman in modern American politics. It might have taken focus groups and Olivia Pope and a team of stylists who specialize in crafting images of political power, but if a woman wants to look authoritative, she could do worse than to copy what Hillary Clinton’s makeup artist is doing.
As Racked’s Alice Bolin writes in a stunning report on political makeup during this election season:
“Robert Draper wrote a fascinating, if depressing, history of Clinton’s public image for T magazine, recalling how in Bill Clinton’s first term as Arkansas governor, Hillary didn’t wear makeup or dye her hair, and she was a full partner in one of the country’s oldest law firms using her maiden name, Rodham. After her husband was unseated as governor, it became obvious that Clinton could not opt not to play the game. She restyled her hair, started wearing makeup, and changed her name, and Bill won the governor’s seat back. Her early lesson was that styling was an easy concession to make if it allowed her to keep working toward her goal.”
I’ve spent more than half my career writing about fashion and makeup, and political makeup completely fascinates me. There are makeup artists who specialize in grooming men and women for politics, because that’s a different look than one desires for fashion or media or business or academics, but it’s no less involved or specialized. Makeup and styling are necessary for anyone appearing on camera, but as anyone who has ever played with makeup knows: Making makeup look invisible is a lot harder than making it look glamorous. Any beauty blogger worth their salt can apply false eyelashes or contour like a Kardashian, but it’s a much different prospect to be hired to make a 70-year-old man look handsome and vigorous and in line with conventional ideas of upper-middle-class masculinity, while realizing the whole time that your and his careers are both over if the public can tell you and your blush brush were there at all.
The communication of power through image is not new and not even remotely unique to women. For well more than 4,000 years people in authority have been grooming themselves and constructing their images to convey that authority to the world. (Visual representations of Mesopotamian King Naram-Sin depart dramatically from those of his predecessors–who wore grand feathered robes that covered them from neck to foot–in that he stands virtually naked and nearly twice the size of the people around him. He communicated military and political strength–and actual divinity–through the visual representation of physical strength and beauty.)
We are nowhere near being able to ignore physicality while we’re trying to take care of our important stuff, but the people actually running the world can hire people who are very good at that to do it for them. Looking perfect is not Hillary Clinton’s job, but making Hillary Clinton look perfect is somebody else’s job, and those people are very good at it.
Racked reports that makeup artist Kriss Soterion created Clinton’s debate lipstick in 2008. She was responsible for Clinton’s look during the primary debates that year, and she had a pretty tall order in front of her. She had to design and execute a look that was authoritative and serious, but also made a person look youthful, strong and vibrant, but not flashy, and not neutral. “Make a lipstick that will look good to everybody and offend nobody” is a tall order, and in the end Soterion decided none of the colors she had worked correctly, so she made a new one. She blended together a red and two plums to create a color that is not neutral, but not red. It’s called “Debate,” and Soterion put it into production and now it’s available on her website for $15.
Soterion has done a lot of political makeup in her career, and she knows what she’s doing. She’s also worked for Republican candidate Jon Huntsman. Every candidate, even Bernie Sanders, sits in a hair and makeup chair before going in front of the camera. This is all part of the background work that goes into the political presentation we see when we turn on the TV or open the newspaper.
A person looking to communicate authority in her own stylistic presentation could do worse than to copy the tricks employed by Clinton’s styling team. That plummy, not-quite-neutral shade might not be the flashy, “quirky hipster” look I normally go for in my daily life, but I still want that particular weapon in my arsenal next time I go in for a work conference, job interview or salary negotiation.