Closing The Gap

How AOC and other congresswomen buy business wardrobes on a budget, from thrift shopping to CVS makeup

UNITED STATES - APRIL 23: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wears a face mask as she walks down the House steps of the U.S. Capitol before the House vote on the $483.4 billion economic relief package on Thursday, April 23, 2020.(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Running for public office can be expensive. Not only do you have to worry about funding a campaign, and paying for staff, but you also have to worry about your appearance. In fact, research shows that for women candidates, wardrobe, makeup and overall style play a huge role in how they're perceived by voters.

Cori Bush, Missouri's first Black congresswoman, recently took to Twitter to discuss how costly it is to shop for a new wardrobe as a newly-elected official.

"The reality of being a regular person going to Congress is that it's really expensive to get the business clothes I need for the Hill," she said. "So I'm going thrift shopping tomorrow." Bush, who is a nurse and activist, will make an annual salary of $174,000 as a congresswoman, according to the Congressional Research Services. But, that salary won't go into effect until she officially takes office in January 2021.

After asking her more than 300,000 Twitter followers if she should do a fashion show showing off the thrift store items she purchased, Bush received retweets and responses from supporters and other congresswomen who shared tips on how they built up their professional wardrobes while still staying on a budget.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that in addition to thrift shopping, she also does "second hand online" shopping to help her buy clothes that would normally be out of her budget.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley chimed in with a few affordable makeup tips saying, "Cori Bush, for all those media hits, don't sleep on the lashes or HD make up products at CVS."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib also shared a secret, saying that in addition to thrift shopping, she still wears some of her maternity clothes under her blazer.

And Rep. Jahana Hayes chimed in with additional support telling Bush to not overthink it, adding "When people used to tell me what I needed for a Congressional wardrobe, my response was, 'I'm a Congresswoman—if I wear it, it's Congressional.'"

After seeing so many congresswomen discuss the many different ways they go about building their wardrobe, online clothing service Rent the Runway tweeted they're "proud to power so many congresswomen and congresswomen-elect with an endless closet," reminding the women that they can borrow designer clothing from their site at an affordable price.

Earlier this year, clothing company M.M. LaFleur stepped up to the plate to help alleviate the financial burden that so many elected women face when it comes to buying a new wardrobe. Launching their new initiative called #ReadytoRun in February, M.M. LaFleur pledged to lend clothes to any woman running for public office, whether on the local level or national level, for free. So far, the company says it has provided 275 female candidates with free new clothing. Of those 275 candidates, M.M. LaFleur says 183 of them made it past the primaries and saw their names on the ballot in the Nov. 3 election.

"We never purport that clothes help move the needle on female representation," CEO Sarah LaFleur said in her letter to customers in February, "but we want to do our part to make things a tiny bit easier."

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