James Werrell

The Alaska hockey mom's new clothes

Apparently she isn't just an ordinary hockey mom after all. Sara Palin, the alpha hockey mom, shops at Saks.

In a "shocking" revelation this week, we learned that Sen. John McCain's running mate and her family were given $150,000 from the Republican National Committee for a clothes shopping spree. The purchases, according to the Los Angeles Times, occurred primarily on Sept. 10 in New York and Minneapolis at Saks Fifth Avenue ($49,425.74), Neiman Marcus ($75,062.63) and Bloomingdale's ($5,102.71).

Palin's husband, Todd, also received about $5,000 in new threads. And her infant son was wearing a $92 outfit from an chi-chi baby store in Minneapolis when he appeared onstage at the GOP convention.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this shopping spree amounts to 75 times what the average American spends on clothes in a year. Or, viewed another way, it is more than many of us will spend on clothes in a lifetime.

This disclosure may hurt Palin in the eyes of real hockey moms and average working women who shop at stores slightly less exclusive than Neiman Marcus or Bloomies. They may see it as a betrayal of the small-town, Wal-Mart-shopper image Palin has been pitching.

I'd love to pile on, but I can't. We all should realize by now that people who run for president or vice president are never going to be "just like us." And, in fact, we expect them to dress better than us on most occasions.

Palin hasn't been just your ordinary, moose-hunting, ski-mobiling Alaskan for some time, probably since she became governor and certainly since she was tapped as McCain's VP. And it was only a matter of time before Republican operatives moved in to ensure she looked sharp on the campaign trail.

They couldn't let her look ratty next to Cindy McCain, who can afford to shop wherever she wants and always looks glamorous. Her outfit on the night she addressed the convention allegedly included a $3,000 Oscar de la Renta dress and $600 shoes.

Even John McCain, who usually is seen in a blue blazer, khakis, no tie and a Navy cap, apparently likes his little luxuries. Reporters noticed that he wears a pair of $520 Ferragamo loafers to most campaign stops.

No one has reported what Barack Obama spends on his clothes, but they look expensive. And there is, to date, no word on whether the Democratic National Committee has spent tens of thousands of dollars to spiff up Joe Biden. If so, it's not working, unless all they wanted to do was make him look like a middle-aged senator.

He probably would have looked silly in the $2,500 silk jacket Palin wore on the night she accepted her nomination. That price is outrageous, but Palin could hardly appear at the convention in a sweatsuit and running shoes. Political campaigns are full of pageantry and spectacle, and the primary players have to be attired accordingly.

For male candidates, that isn't so hard. They can buy a blue suit and a gray suit and wear them until the pants get shiny, switching around shirts and ties now and then. They also need appropriate casual wear for talking to farmers in their fields, attending sporting events or doing something physical like hunting or playing basketball.

But that wardrobe isn't too demanding. In fact, it's what most guys already have in their closets.

Women candidates can't wear the same thing day in and day out. Hillary Clinton did wear pant suits on the campaign trail most of the time, but she had one in every color you might find in a bag of Skittles.

Women also have to have their hair done, put on makeup and accessorize. Palin travels with a hair stylist and makeup artist when out on the hustings, and Hillary no doubt has a styling entourage, too.

I can't imagine that McCain, Obama or Biden do much with their hair in the morning ... well, maybe Biden. As for accessories, they all have watches.

We do hear about it when male candidates fuss too much with their hair. John Edwards' $400 haircut was the topic of conversation for a week or so during the primaries.

But the fashion barbs usually are aimed at women. And while that probably is unfair, it is part of what groundbreaking women candidates must endure.

And so, if you aspire to be hockey mom in chief, make sure the party honchos are footing the bill.