Ann Romney's tasteful, conservative and appropriate wardrobe largely reflects the image that she has carved for herself this week at the Republican National Convention. She wore dresses in bright red, pretty pink and, on Thursday, light blue — a gesture at reaching across the political aisle?
But she might have to go deeper into the White House — all the way into Michelle Obama's closet — to find the outfits that will likely become the benchmark for a modern, stylish political wife.
"Ann Romney might have consciously or unconsciously taken a cue from Michelle. Maybe Ann, if she becomes first lady, can take more chances thanks to Michelle," said Sharon Graubard, senior vice president and fashion director of Stylesight, a New York-based trend forecasting and analysis firm.
Chic sheaths and shirtdresses instead of sometimes matronly pantsuits or mid-calf skirtsuits? Obama largely made them acceptable and respectable, Graubard said. Same goes for bold printed fabrics and trend-right accessories, including the jeweled belt that Romney wore around her waist for with her Oscar de la Renta red, shiny shantung-silk dress for her big speech to the convention delegates Tuesday night in Tampa, Fla. As her husband accepted the GOP nomination, she looked on in a fitted dress with a banded waist, complemented by several bracelets and a big brooch.
"If you look at Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, it's hard to look at any potential first lady and not think of the impact that Michelle Obama has had," said Kate Betts, fashion editor and author of "Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style."
Not that Obama always gets it right. On Wednesday, while Condoleezza Rice took the stage in Tampa in a blush-colored satin suit, Obama appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" in a black ensemble with a tank-style top and high-waist belt that the style blog on The Huffington Post called "peculiar."
But, Betts said, "The only reason we're talking about their fashion at the RNC at all is because of Michelle Obama. Otherwise, we hadn't talked about 'fashion' in the White House since Nancy Reagan."
Working women, in particular, can take the cue that it's OK to have flair and still be taken seriously, experts agree.
Generally, however, Betts said, the fashion industry doesn't pay much mind to political figures because they don't take risks because they want to be approachable to the greatest possible number of people. Obama, however, embraced early on the idea of personal style — and it has rubbed off on Republicans and Democrats, she said.
"Ann Romney was dressing for herself and wearing what she felt comfortable in, and you can see that," Betts said.
Romney's four-digit de la Renta dress generated some chatter that she's not living the life — or living within the budget — of an everywoman. She's donned other expensive designer duds throughout the campaign. Obama has many top-tier, pricey clothes, too, but she makes a point, and so do the labels she's wearing, to note that she embraces the idea of "high-low" dressing, taking a designer piece and mixing it with another from a mass retailer.
Janna Ryan, however, watched her husband speak at the convention in a $169 emerald-green sheath from Talbots, and the floral dress she wore the day Paul Ryan was introduced as Mitt Romney's No. 2 came from Kohl's Dana Buchman collection.
"I think the women at the Republican convention were being appropriate, and they looked exactly as one would expect them to look," observed Fern Mallis, host of the SiriusXM satellite radio show "Fashion Insiders with Fern Mallis."
Clothing, Mallis says, is an important choice in campaigns. Appearance certainly is a factor in forming first impressions and longer lasting opinions, she says.
So what does that leave style-watchers saying about Romney?
"Ann is doing it right," said Stylesight's Graubard, who calls it "an expensive suburban look."She added: "She's humanizing her husband, and she looks clean and friendly. Someone in our office said she looks like the Million-Dollar Mom."