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How Campaigning Women Can Keep Their Couture Without the Cost Criticism

Women on the campaign trail, be it candidates or candidates' wives, are more likely to get into trouble for the cost of their wardrobe if it clashes with the economic realities of the day -- stubborn unemployment, a burst housing bubble, recession, on and on.

On the GOP side, it was Ann Romney's $990 Reed Krakoff bird blouse, and Callista Gingrich's love for St. John at Neiman Marcus while Newt sat in the Bored Man Chair reading a book and her personal shopper sifted through the racks. The Gingriches, already taking heat for shopping sprees at Tiffany's, were conscious enough of how this looked politically that they halted the Neiman Marcus trips during the campaign.

Over at the White House, it's Michelle Obama's $950 Comme des Garcons skirt worn to meet military families in a mess hall, or wearing $2,000 to $3,000 L'Wren Scott cardigans to mark Take Your Child to Work Day and greet troops at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Taxpayers aren't footing the bill for these women's closets, so should it be our business?

It may not be anyone's business, but that doesn't mean it isn't a campaign issue. Perception is everything, and when you're trying to tell the downtrodden that you're solidly in their corner, standing firmly on your Jimmy Choos, it opens the door for criticism and puts the focus on your pricey couture rather than your policies.

But I'd never tell a woman to give up her couture, as much as I understand that love. I'd simply advise her to acquire it in a smarter way.

The solution is not a camera-op at Target and pretending like you buy your clothes there, then sprinting over to the food bank in $540 Lanvin sneakers (ahem, Michelle).

I love fashion. I love the drape and feel of label-snob clothes, the smell of a leather label-snob handbag, the craftsmanship and curves of label-snob shoes, and am rarely seen without Dior sunglasses on my face or pushed up on my head. And yet, being a full-time journalist my whole adult life hasn't exactly left me wealthy. Thus, over the years I've perfected the art of fashionista label-snobbery on a real-people salary.

When I made just $35,000 a year in Southern California, I was wearing $300 Emanuel Ungaro tops nabbed at the local Off 5th (Saks Fifth Avenue outlet) for $30. When Isaac Mizrahi launched his first buzzed-about Target line, I was fetching Isaac python flats at that outlet for $10. I got a $600 Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress for $40, a $540 Anne Klein wool and cashmere coat for $35, and on and on.