WHCD Fashion: Television’s Spotlight

The White House Correspondents Dinner might not have been such a well dressed event that it placed Washington on a grid with New York and Paris. However, this years guests made style choices within a new context. The age old Washingtonian question “Should I dress Jackie or Marilyn?” has been replaced with “Should I dress Olivia or Claire?” The Kennedy White House, once known as the “high glamour” era of Washington, no longer gives the tone to how women dress. Popular DC centric TV shows, like “Scandal” and “House of Cards”, have allowed Hollywood’s idea of Washington to lead real women in their fashion choices.

The question is asked year after year – but it is rigged: does the Correspondents Dinner finally show that fashion in Washington has elevated? The truth is: not many “real” Washingtonians go to the event. To say that the attendees were not as well dressed as those in New York or Paris is less a jab to Washingtonians than it is a jab to the attendees themselves (many of whom traveled from New York and some of whom work in Paris).

Despite where they came from, these women had to choose how to dress for a Washingtonian party. Clair Underwood, the First Lady from “House of Cards”, and Olivia Pope, the political fixer from “Scandal”, are both characters with consistent style choices whose themes were prevalent in the dresses from this years’ dinner.

In the show, Underwood hosts her own Correspondents Dinner as First Lady and wears a full length, neck-to-toe, silk sheath dress. Although hers was silvery grey and supermodel Irina Shayk’s was blossom pink, the connection was clear down to the side-parted hair and stud earrings.

Silver and grey were pervasive among other guests, however, even the real First Lady echoed Underwood — both their dresses were silver, full length, cinched at the waist, reflective, sleeveless, a fitted sheath silhouette and a high neckline covering the décolletage. Others in grey or silver included Karlie Kloss, Chrissy Teigen, Katie Couric, Lavern Cox and Bailee Madison.

Underwood’s dress didn’t exactly have a cape (one piece extended off to one side and down to the floor as if she had thrown a cape over her shoulder). However, cape elements were similarly present this year from Connie Nielson, Tracee Ellis-Ross and Tea Leoni.

Although Claire Underwood keeps within monochromatic choices, at times dressing more “first” than “lady”, more “business” than “house” and more “sport” than “leisure” (a look executed most succinctly that night by Diana Taylor) Olivia Pope’s style stands in contrast with more risk and energy. On the show, Pope returns to geometric elements, color blocking and cut-outs.

Pope had two Correspondents Dinner dresses: one white with subtle geometry coming from cascading, art-deco arches of beading; the other black and white, harsh color blocking, a keyhole neckline, and a geometric contour on the bodice.

Guests at this years party kneeled to Pope by echoing nearly all of her choices. Naya Rivera and Troian Bellisario wore white, as did Darby Stanchfield (with a grand v-neck), Carla Guglio (with florals) and Bethany Mota (with art deco designs most akin to Pope). Lupita Nyongo wore black and white along with Mike Brezinski and Jenna Dewan-Tatum. Idina Menzel wore color blocking along with Brit Marling and Michelle Monaghan — who both made a geometric choice. Michele Trachtenburg had a keyhole cut-out while Maria Menunos’ cut-outs were carved away from her sides.

So what does it all mean?

We are familiar, in Washington, with being told that our high fashion aspirations fall behind our global, metropolitan peers. That demotion is one not many actual Washingtonians are ready to stand up to yet – largely because the industry’s presence here is still limited and because, perhaps to our collective fault, lively street-style coverage does not yet exist to capture and capitulate a current record of our own choices.

Nevertheless, few could argue against this event being unique both to New Yorkers and Washingtonians. When else are New Yorkers going to attend a party hosted by the President himself? When else are Washingtonians going dance alongside flirting movie-stars and groping supermodels? Due to the resounding influence of Underwood and Pope, this might have been the first Nerd Prom where the Co-Queens were not New Yorkers but Washingtonians – albeit, invented ones. And makes us first in more ways than one.

[Photo Credit: NYPost, PBS, Vanity Fair, and Zimbio]

Emilia Ferrara