Retailer offers freebies to help women candidates dress for success

'Female candidates have to focus on finding an outfit that projects a certain level of power to compete'

Women running for public office have one less thing to worry about – what to wear.

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Clothing company M.M. LaFleur announced this week it will lend free campaign attire to women running for any level of public office this election season, helping them to focus on winning instead of their wardrobes.

It joins a number of companies aiming to make career-appropriate styles more accessible.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. (AP Photo/John Locher)

"2020 is such a huge year for women in politics -- including the 100th anniversary of the amendment giving women the right to vote -- and we knew we wanted to take action and show our support in a meaningful way," founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur told FOX Business, The company's offer also reflects its mission to “take the work out of dressing for work."

So far, more than 925 female candidates across the country have expressed interest in the lending program, LaFleur said, including a professional firefighter and mother of four; a public school teacher running for state senate; and an Asian-American woman, who, if elected, would be the first voted into her state's House.

"The power of self-presentation is real for all of us. For women running for office, it's critical. No one was commenting on Biden's suit after the most recent debate, but what Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are wearing is always a topic of conversation," LaFleur said, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden and the senators competing with him for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. "No matter what, wardrobe is something they are constantly scrutinized for. Not only do female candidates have to focus on finding an outfit that projects a certain level of power to compete with their male competitors, but they also have to worry about comfort."

Indeed, women have faced criticism over how they look on the campaign trail since they started running for office in the U.S. Research shows that the appearance of women politicians is scrutinized more intensely than their male counterparts.

Not only do female candidates have to focus on finding an outfit that projects a certain level of power to compete with their male competitors, but they also have to worry about comfort." 

- Sarah LaFleur, founder and CEO of M.M. LaFleur

As a result, they often spend more money on it. Women shell out around $571 per year, 76 percent more than what men spend, according to data from CreditDonkey.com.

The pressure of dressing for work is a stressor for many women. A Thrive Global and The Business of Fashion survey of 2,700 professionals found that 49 percent of the female respondents reported that they’ve felt self-conscious about repeating an outfit at work.

Indeed, women and girls will spend an estimated $680 billion on clothing in 2024, which includes $49 billion on blazers and $10 billion on suits, according to Goldstein Research as reported by Vogue Business.

And a number of companies have tapped into that market. Rent the Runway started offering workday rental clothing for women starting at $80 a month for four items at a time, which can be swapped as often as desired. Le Tote, another online women’s clothing rental company with a subscription box acquired by Lord & Taylor has a similar service.

M.M. LaFluer sells workwear for prices from $165 to upwards of $300 for tops, blazers, pants and skirts.

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Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization, provides professional clothing for low-income women to help support their job search. To date, it's helped more than a million women get dressed for work with the help of more than 12,000 volunteers, according to its website.

What you wear can often factor significantly into whether you do or don't get a job, considering half of the employers (49 percent) will decide whether you’re a good or bad fit for a position within the first five minutes of an interview, and only 8 percent take half-hour or longer to make up their minds, according to CareerBuilder.

“You want to present yourself so you look a little bit better than the rest of the office, but not so you look clueless and out of touch with how the office is,” said Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders Inc., a career website that reviews and accesses millions of resumes.

When it comes to budgeting for appearance and clothing, consumers can save by spending smarter on staple pieces rather than statement looks that may be harder to wear again, and using credit cards that will give points back when spending on retail purchases, said Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

“Some good ways anyone can save on clothes or grooming are buying classic pieces that mix and match well, buying secondhand or using the right credit cards that maximize every dollar you spend in those categories,” Rossman said.

For M.M. LaFleur's program, the business is teaming with She Should Run, a non-partisan organization that teaches women who want to run for office how to do it.

"Awesome way to support women and our political initiatives," one user said on Twitter. "You rock."

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has faced criticism on the campaign trail for her appearance, applauded the company on Instagram, highlighting her own struggles finding accessibly-priced clothing for her job.

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“When I was running for office (even now!), accessing clothing for the job was a big challenge both logistically and financially,” the Democrat wrote Tuesday. “When I was first elected, I needed an entirely new wardrobe for my new job. I had NO clothes to prepare me for Congress, and if it wasn’t for some hand-me-downs from friends before being sworn in, I don’t know what I would have done.”

 U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised M.M. LaFleur for lending clothing to women on the campaign trail. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, who represented the state from 1993 to 1999, told Vox in an interview from 2018 that she, too, experienced scrutiny over her clothing, recalling a time when she said Women’s Wear Daily ran a photo of her on its cover that said “this is what a Chanel sweater set should not look like.”

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Sarah Palin faced criticism over her wardrobe in 2008. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images).

And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made headlines as GOP presidential candidate John McCain's running mate in 2008 when the Republican National Committee spent around $150,000 for her family's wardrobe from stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Advisers at the time said the money was for Palin’s “campaign accessories.” Others deemed the scrutiny over Palin’s wardrobe as sexist, arguing that men in politics can spend thousands of dollars on suits.

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