The Seven Unsung Heroes of Washington Fashion

10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Karin Tanabe Simon & Schuster author of "The List" and "The Price of Inheritance" (August 2014)

"Welcome to Washington, Hollywood for ugly people!" The fabled moniker held tried and true through Jimmy Carter cardigans and George W. Bush suits and cowboy boots. Then all of a sudden fashion plate Michelle Obama and her well-dressed entourage came to town and Washingtonians aren't likened to burlap-clad trolls anymore. We have women like Desiré e Rogers, Valerie Jarrett, and la belle Michelle who grace the covers of Vogue and make Anna Wintour salivate. Did these three graces manage to reverse years of fashion faux pas on the part of the capital city? Or maybe, just maybe we weren't that bad before the Obama runway show came to town. After all, some Washingtonians have quietly been making fashion splashes for decades, but sadly have gone unsung. Until now!


Gary Ackerman - The former junior high school teacher and current Democratic congressman from New York's 5th district has been wearing a white carnation in his suit lapel since the late sixties. No fresh white flowers in sunny Tajikistan? No problem! The blossom-loving rep carries a few days supply of carnations in dry ice when he travels to third world countries. When he is on American soil, Ackerman doesn't take any old roadside dandelion and staple it to his breast. No, no, no. He always wears a carnation, it's always white and he makes sure to buy a fresh one every day. Now it might sound a tad odd to our modern ears to have the Oldsmobile of flowers worn day in and day out by a thirteen term congressman, but how many politicians care about making a fashion statement?

Ackerman isn't exactly a Rhett Butler look-alike and I have no current plans to wander over to the Rayburn Office Building and try to woo him. But in a sea of identical suits and the unsightly casual wear that comes with the August recess, the congressman from Long Island's flower power adds an old fashioned charm to Capitol Hill.


Maria Cantwell - The junior senator from Washington always wins "sexiest senator on Capitol Hill," in polls on Huff Post and the like, but it's not just her baby blues and shiny locks that help maintain her Miss Washington status. One of the senate's bachelorettes, Cantwell can't get enough of fashionable layered looks like brightly-colored wide-collared shirts with tweed blazers, pencil skirts, and a turtleneck for good measure. While she may not strut down Pennsylvania Avenue in stilettos or wear head-to-toe Chanel, Cantwell always looks feminine and polished, which is certainly "sexy," in its own right.


David Dreier - For many here, the Republican rep from California's 26th may be fighting for the enemy, but a rather well-dressed enemy he is. With a wardrobe reminiscent of a young John Warner, Dreier often wears bright, almost electric blue ties against starched white wing collar shirts. Sometimes he looks like he should be running a Skull and Bones meeting at Yale, and sometimes he comes off rather Reaganesque in elegant beige and brown suits, but whatever he wears, he always looks powerfully put together.


Jane Harman - The spiky-haired congresswoman sometimes looks like she just scampered off to have a few martinis with Joan Jett, but Harman in her embellished black evening wear and impeccably tailored tweed and pinstriped suits is probably Nancy Pelosi's main rival for best dressed in the House. Sure, she certainly has the coinage to buy the best as the most monied member of congress, but Harman appears perfectly outfitted without looking like she raided a starlet's closet.


John Kerry - Can we ever associate French-speaking, windsurf-loving John Kerry with anything other than those headline-making floral swim trunks? Whether we can or not, we definitely should because the stylish man from Massachusetts sports one of the best wardrobes on the Senate floor. Perhaps Teresa Heinz helps with his attire, or maybe he's just a closeted fashionista, either way, he takes the classic navy blue blazer-wearing, red tie-sporting politician look to new heights. Opting for patterned ties with Hermès-like prints and classic New England khakis and barn jackets on weekends, Kerry is very much the Ivy League gentleman. As we all know, his champagne and sailboats look may have hurt him in 2004, but no longer!


Kathleen Sebelius - She may be a new arrival to Washington, but the silver fox of health and human services has already made her fashion stamp on the city. Like Michelle Obama, she has proven her right to bare arms repeatedly wearing sleeveless evening wear, and wearing it well. She also loves jewel tones donning purple, turquoise, and green like other politicians wear red, white, and blue. Sebelius is a great example of a woman who knows how to dress for her body and sticks with the classics.


John Thune - Whether you agree with his politics or not, it's hard not to admit that John Thune is easy on the eye. Sure, his cleaned up cowboy looks certainly help, but his physical appearance is also aided by classic gray suits that look Jermyn Street rather than K Street and his ability to dress very Washington in red and blue ties, and navy or gray suits, without appearing terribly boring. When the junior senator goes casual, he gives a nod to his home state of South Dakota leaving the preppy politician behind and dressing rancher chic in weathered leather jackets, twill shirts, and boots.

Follow HuffPost Style on Twitter and become a fan of HuffPost Style on Facebook!