Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 12:27 UK

Sarah Palin's $150,000 makeover

By Ali Reed
BBC News

Sarah Palin

The life of a vice-presidential candidate may be gruelling, but it can also be glamorous - $150,000 glamorous.

The Republican National Committee has reportedly spent about that amount (roughly 92,000) on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's wardrobe since she was chosen as John McCain's running mate less than two months ago.

Alaska is a state where women are more commonly seen in Mukluk boots and heavy furs than stilettos and expensive tailored suits, but thrust into the national spotlight Mrs Palin has adopted a new look.

A self-professed adorer of high heels, she has sported a number of new styles on the campaign trail.

It looks as though Mrs Palin's "the heels are on, the gloves are off" comment was more firmly based in reality than was previously thought.

Swanky stores

It is not the first time a political candidate has come under scrutiny for spending large sums of dollars on improving his or her image.

$75,062 spent at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis
$41,850 spent in St Louis
$4,100 on make-up and hair consulting
$4,902 at Atelier, a men's clothing shop in New York
$92 on a romper suit and hat with ears
Senator Hillary Clinton's expensive trouser suits provoked comment, while former presidential candidate John Edwards was criticised for his $400 haircuts.

Even Mr McCain's $500 Italian leather loafers have been noted, never mind his wife Cindy's Republican National Convention outfit that magazine Vanity Fair valued at $300,000 (thanks largely to a pair of hefty diamond earrings).

However, if this type of spending was poorly-received before, it may go down very badly indeed with voters in the present economic climate.

In the midst of a financial meltdown, those from what Mrs Palin called the "pro-America areas of this great nation"- the Middle America of Joe and Jane the Plumber - have been staying away from the stores.

It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign
McCain-Palin spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt

Retail sales decreased by 1.2% in September - the most dramatic drop since 2005. High-end stores' sales have reflected this fall.

But the RNC, for its part, has been bucking the trend.

The party treated Mrs Palin to a one-day $75,000 shopping trip at swanky department store Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis.

A romper suit and hat with matching ears for Mrs Palin's baby, Trig, was bought at another shop in the city for $92.

The committee also dished out nearly $41,850 in St Louis, and $4,100 for make-up and hair consulting.

Altogether the RNC spent about $150,000 on clothing, hairstyling, make-up and other "campaign accessories" in September, after Mrs Palin was selected as Mr McCain's running mate.

This adds up to more than double the average American household's yearly income.

'Pantsuits and blouses'

Amanda Sanders, a celebrity adviser at New York Image Consultants, told the BBC News website that to the average person the price would seem "astronomical".

Sarah Palin

She's not a 'soccer mom' any more - her new wardrobe says 'take me seriously'

Amanda Sanders
Celebrity image consultant

"Maybe her look could have been reached with $50,000 - $150,000 seems a little over the top... especially when the American economy is in the toilet the way it is."

"That's, like, a new outfit every day from August to the election."

However, she praises Mrs Palin's new look as "very polished and sophisticated" apart from the odd fashion glitch such as knee-high boots, which Ms Sanders deems "inappropriate" for her role.

She speculates that the logic behind the makeover was to make Mrs Palin look less out of place beside the highly-groomed Mrs McCain and elegant Michelle Obama.

"The Republicans couldn't have her look so Middle America when Cindy looked so high-end. They wanted her to look polished and sophisticated like Cindy," she said.

"She's not a 'soccer mom' any more - her new wardrobe says 'take me seriously'. They wanted her to look as 'Jackie O' as Obama's wife - I think that was important."

The story could hardly have come at a worse time for the McCain campaign.

The public, and political pundits, have been closely monitoring the spending habits of the candidates and their partners since Wall Street began to falter.

Michelle Obama was criticised after the New York Post ran a story about her ordering lobster, Iranian caviar and champagne to her room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The paper later retracted the claim, admitting it was entirely false.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said McCain spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

She added: "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."

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