Who gave the Bush twins license to chuck their respectable Republican cloth coats and show up on the floor of Madison Square Garden dressed the way they were? Not momma Laura, surely, prim in her little gabardine suits. Surely not Ganny, with her startling white hair and gargantuan pearls. Even as the microphone magnified every giggle, the nation stared, gaga, at Jenna’s beaded faux-vintage cocktail dress and Barbara’s white trousers, peculiar windbreaker jacket, multiple strands of beads, and early-21st-century roll of bare tummy flesh. So who was responsible for these code-breaking outfits?
The Bush sisters don’t know it, and if they did they probably wouldn’t admit it, but their nutty clothes owe their existence to the vociferous demonstrators just outside the Garden. It was the spiritual parents (and is some cases the real parents) of those protesters who, 40 years ago, tore up the rule book on “appropriate” dressing, who argued that you could—and should—wear hiking boots with a Victorian nightgown, or throw an army coat over a tutu, or don any other weird combo that suited your fancy. Wild clothes were the stamp of the ’60s radical, the long hair and tie-dyed caftans and other gender-defying ensembles as revolutionary in their time as the latest Panther pamphlet.
It is one of the many, if unsung, victories of the ’60s social revolution that the right to wear what you want, when you want, is as inalienable in the end as the right to vote or eat at a lunch counter or sleep with whomever you please. (For better or worse, our success was total: It may have taken few decades for the general population to loosen up, but now the whole country, red and blue, is trotting around to weddings and funerals in sandals and Bermuda shorts.)
Still, in these dark days, it’s good to remember that lots of time we win: If we only open our eyes, there are triumphs, sartorial and otherwise, all around us. Times may be hard, there’s a war to stop and an administration to unseat, but there are also legions of Code Pink women in the streets, sexy goddesses in their ratty-chic slips and tiaras, joyfully un-welcoming the GOP. Barbara and Jenna may not have donned the rose-colored lingerie yet (but they still might! Who even knows if they’re really Republicans! Look at Ron Reagan junior!) but their funny clothes on the podium speak louder than a million blue suits.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 24, 2004