Who knew looking like a ''hockey mom'' was this darned expensive?
Certainly not Wanda Routier, a proud hockey mom in Hewitt, Wis., who spends her time in sweat pants, turtlenecks, ankle boots, and heavy coats.
She was dismayed to hear yesterday that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 in two months on clothes, hair styling, and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family from such upscale stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus.
"I was put off by it," Ms. Routier said. "I mean, I know they have an image to project, but that's a lot of money when we're talking about the economy the way it is. And the burden on ordinary Americans."
But another hockey mom defended Mrs. Palin.
"I can certainly imagine her clothes would cost that much," said Page Growney, a mother of four in upscale New Canaan, Conn. "What did you want to see her in, a turtleneck from L.L. Bean?"
As much of the world knows, Mrs. Palin introduced herself at the GOP convention - in what's been widely reported to be a $2,500 Valentino jacket - as a "regular hockey mom," and boasted of having saved Alaska's taxpayers "over-the-top" expenditures like her luxury jet, her personal chef, even the ride to work.
She has often talked of "real Americans" and "Joe Six-Pack" and projected a folksy demeanor in her vice presidential debate.
"Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card," she said in that debate. "Don't live outside of our means."
The average U.S. household spent $1,874 on clothes and services in 2006, the last year for which figures are available from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So Mrs. Palin's detractors were naturally having a field day with the revelations, first reported on Politico.com. They included a whopping $75,062 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, one for $49,425 from Saks Fifth Avenue, $4,902 at Atelier, a stylish men's store, and even a $92 romper and matching hat with ears for baby Trig at Pacifier, a Minneapolis baby store.
"Nothing says Main Street quite like Saks Fifth Avenue," wrote Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz.
Added AMERICAblog's John Aravosis: "Gee, Marshalls and Target are too good for Mrs. Joe Six-Pack?"
Mrs. Palin's choice of clothes, and their costs, will certainly raise eyebrows in "Joe the Plumber's" neighborhood in suburban Toledo.
"That's more than I've spent on clothes in my whole life," U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said last night. She said she purchases her clothes at retailers such as J.C. Penney, Macy's, and Value City.
And whatever she buys comes from her own pocket - not from campaign or party funds, she said.
"I pay for my own things," Miss Kaptur said, adding that she also pays for her own cosmetics, hair care, and even to get her shoes fixed when they break on the campaign trail.
"It sounds like she has more of a Hollywood mindset than a Main Street mind-set," said Miss Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress.
And a spokesman for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last night confirmed she pays for all of her own clothing purchases.
Whether criticized by Democrats or supported by Republicans, Mrs. Palin's clothing purchases are a far cry from the "respectable Republican cloth coat" that Richard Nixon told the nation his wife, Pat, wore in his famous "Checkers" speech in 1952, while he was running as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Booth Moore, the fashion critic for the Los Angeles Times, said last night she had never come across such a controversy over the wardrobe of a candidate.
"I don't think there's been another example," said Ms. Moore, a reporter with The Times for 12 years.
Ms. Moore said Mrs. Palin's fashion sense chips away at the image she has built as a common woman.
"It causes an image problem for her because the way she has been positioned is as 'every woman', and spending that much money on clothes during a time when people are losing their jobs because the economy is so bad is not going to reflect well on her," Ms. Moore said.
"Honestly, if she had picked five or six outfits that she wore over and over again, and if voters recognized her wearing them over and over again, that would be much more of an 'every woman' because most of us have to wear the same things from week to week," she said.
The situation has raised questions about the propriety of using party money for such expenses.
The Republican National Committee said the clothes belong to the committee, while Sen. John McCain's campaign said the clothing would go to a "charitable purpose" after the campaign. The campaign also sought to deflect the issue by criticizing the media attention.
"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pant suits and blouses," said McCain spokesman Tracey Schmitt.
But many thought the remarkable thing were the expenditures themselves, which also raised a cultural and sartorial question: Can a candidate who portrays herself as a woman of the people spend this much on clothes and remain credible?
"She presents herself as Josephine Six-Pack, and I'll tell you this, Josephine Six-Pack wouldn't spend $150,000 on her wardrobe," said Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine. "I'm all for 'shop 'til you drop.' But to be spending profligately when you're saying you're just one of the people - well, that's just bad marketing."
"Listen, you can walk into H&M and get three wardrobes for $500 to $1,000, and you're done," Ms. Seymour added.
That rings true to another hockey mom, Adina Ellick of Chappaqua, N.Y.
"If I spend $1,000 on clothes in a year, it's a lot," said Ms. Ellick, 43. "Usually I'm sitting at a freezing hockey game in fleece pants and a pullover sweatshirt and a blanket over my head!" She said she was "offended" by news of the expenditures.
One stylist, though, thought $150,000 was not excessive for a woman in such a prominent place.
"Everything is relative," said Gretta Monahan, fashion adviser on The Rachael Ray Show.
"Sarah Palin's goal is to be the vice president of the United States and that's a pretty ... big job. The better your image is, the better people will receive you."
If Mrs. Palin's $2,500 Valentino jacket seems expensive, consider that Barack Obama wears Hart Schaffner Marx suits that retail for about $1,500.
John McCain consistently wears $520 Salvatore Ferragamo loafers, while Vanity Fair editors estimated that an outfit worn by Cindy McCain at the Republican National Convention cost $313,100, including diamond earrings and pearl necklace.
The immediate question for the McCain campaign, however, is whether the Palin expenses were justified in the first place.
The 2002 campaign-finance law that bears Mr. McCain's name specifically barred any funds "donated for the purpose of supporting the activities of a federal or state officeholder" from being used for personal expenses, including clothing.
A quirk in the law does not specifically mention party committees, however.
Fifteen years ago, Mr. McCain himself complained that restrictions on political contributions for personal use at that time were too broad and he wrote an amendment to tighten the law.
"The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly," he said in May, 1993.
Most of the expenses for Mrs. Palin were initially incurred by Jeff Larson, a Republican consultant who was the CEO of the host committee for the Republican National Convention.
Federal Election Commission records show that the RNC reimbursed Mr. Larson for the expenses - a total of $132,457.
Mr. Larson is a partner with FLS Connect, a firm hired by the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee to undertake a phone calling campaign on behalf of Mr. McCain. Media reports have linked the firm to negative calls aimed at Mr. Obama.
Mr. Larson's office referred calls to the Republican National Committee. A committee spokesman said only that the RNC has acted properly in reimbursing Mr. Larson.
In 2007, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards sparked derision after his campaign paid for two $400 haircuts. His campaign said they paid the bill by mistake and that Mr. Edwards would reimburse the campaign.
As for Mr. Obama, his campaign says it has paid for hair and makeup costs associated with interviews or events, but neither the campaign nor the Democratic National Committee has paid for clothing.