Many first ladies are using fashion as means to connect with constituents while in office. Most recently, glamorous First Lady Peng Liyuan borrows a card from the same playbook. On her first foreign tour, the Chinese first lady has sparked a flurry of excitement with her choice in clothes and also her decision to not shy away from the spotlight.
Since Friday, images of the first lady have circulated widely on the Chinese internet praising her understated style and poise. On her first stop in Moscow, Peng appeared next to her husband donning an outfit by one of China’s top labels exception. The first lady’s outfit was a stark contrast to her predecessors who rarely made public appearances and were highly criticized for wearing western labels head to toe.
Peng Liyuan is not the first to use fashion to build her public image. Fashion has become a smart tool for political leading ladies to build a relationship with the mainstream media. The clothes choices of leading ladies often reflect a message or show support for a certain cause. For example, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was constantly recognized for her stylish tastes, which gave hope to every girl that they could at least dress like a princess if they couldn't be one. Prior to her marriage to Prince William, she wore mainstream brands like Zara and helped put lesser-known Brazilian designers on the map.
First Lady Michelle Obama is also constantly photographed to showcase her beautiful wardrobe. Those who aspire to be like First Lady Michelle can even dress the part by shopping at J. Crew. First Lady Michelle promotes brands and is often pictured shopping at Target to encourage smart spending and relate to the average consumer. There is always media buzz around First Lady Michelle’s wardrobe choice for important events and why she chooses one designer over the other.
The reason behind all this media frenzy is that first ladies help put a softer image on their counterparts and make the politics of heads of states a little more approachable. In the case of First Lady Peng Liyuan, much of Chinese politics still remains a secret. Even though the world may not a get a glimpse of the country’s politics any time soon, Ms. Liyuan’s softer image may encourage more countries to improve diplomatic relations.
Hong Huang, one of the most popular micro bloggers in China, put it best: "First ladies are ambassadors of the culture and the design and of the soft power of a country. I'm glad that she chose to wear Chinese and take up that role of spokesperson for Chinese design here."
Peng’s fashion choices mark a change in Chinese politics. Her choice to appear candidly in the public eye is a first for the country. There is no mention yet as to how active of a role the first lady may take in the future; however, the positive response from her touring may encourage more appearances.
Chinese politics can definitely use a softer image. First Lady Peng’s debut abroad may help thaw some relations and move Chinese politics in the direction they need to go. First Lady Peng and her style will be one to watch in the coming months.