Argentina's Fashionable Presidential Hopeful Cristina Kirchner Makes Hillary Clinton Look Dowdy

When Argentina's foxy first lady and fashionista Cristina Kirchner announced July 2 that she would run for president, she allowed her long, black hair to cascade over a plunging neckline.

But America's first lady of politics, Hillary Rodham Clinton — who has often been compared to Kirchner — opted for a solid black pants suit during her recent presidential debate.

Other international women with brains and power, such as France's Ségolène Royal, flaunt their sexuality. But Americans prefer to play the dowdy card.

In a pragmatic nation with Puritan roots, "no nonsense" and "professional" get more votes than "sexy," say experts in both fashion and politics.

"In countries like Italy and France, the attitude is that they are leading the country and are supposed to be wearing fashionable clothes," said Valerie Steele, director and curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

But in the United States, "women are not supposed to be flaunting their sexuality, or be too flashy or sexy," she said. "It's expensive and time-consuming."

Clinton, who has relied on designer Oscar de la Renta since her White House days, has raised the retro pants suit to high art. One bright yellow version made a big fashion splash on this side of the Atlantic, with fashion writers describing it as "bright," "refreshed," "summery," "glamorous."

But not sexy.

A 54-year-old lawyer, Kirchner has been called "Imelda" — a reference to the shoe-mongering Filipino dictator's wife Imelda Marcos — for her vast collection of footwear.

In a YouTube cartoon, Kirchner is shown switching outfits from bikini to dominatrix get-up. Kirchner may have a shoe for every day of the year, but she is no intellectual lightweight. A sitting senator who has served in both legislative houses, she is President Néstor Kirchner's closest adviser.

And her hunger for designer fashion probably won't hurt her at the ballot box. The latest polls show she is likely to win the first round of balloting with 46 percent support and a more than 30 percentage point lead over two other leading presidential contenders, according to Britain's Independent.

Kirchner's closest rival is Elisa Carrió, a former beauty queen.

France's Ségolène Royal, with her common law husband and sexy looks, did not win the recent French presidential election, but it wasn't because of her lack of fashion sense.

Even the pope wears Prada, according to Joyce Caruso Corrigan, editor at large at Marie Claire magazine. "They think it's their birthright," she said. "The Europeans and Latin Americans just have 'sexy' in their DNA. Americans are sort of no-nonsense."

Since the time of the revolution, Americans have disdained "peacocks," said Corrigan.

Sarah Livingston Jay, wife of the first Supreme Court justice John Jay, was the first prominent American woman to go to Paris. "She was with Marie Antoinette, and dressed the part, swathed in the silk of the Parisian court," said Corrigan. "She got a lot of slack for it."

Later, former first ladies Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison turned to the "plain cloth that reflected our revolutionary values," according to Corrigan. "We've never shaken that."

All politicians make conscious fashion choices, including the frumpy Laura Bush and her mother-in-law and former first lady Barbara Bush, for whom "mumsy" is the word. But Clinton chooses the professional look.

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