One Eye on the Mirror, the Other on the Ballot Box


Many people have made changes in their appearance, but not everyone acknowledges make-overs or even admits to a close encounter with an image consultant. And, of course, some have self-helped themselves into political correctness.

Sometimes a small change--such as the cut of a jacket--can make all the difference. At other times, candidates use cosmetic surgeons to carve a new image.

Consider these cases.

* Hillary Clinton’s transformation took place in 1980 when she and Bill were voted out of the governor’s mansion in Arkansas. She saw the writing on the vanity wall and repackaged herself.


Clinton went from looking like a myopic springer spaniel to looking like an aging rush captain. She bleached multihued blond streaks in her long, wavy, brown hair; cropped it into a pert bob, and clamped a black velvet headband to her crown. She ditched her dark-framed, thick glasses for contact lenses and abandoned a wardrobe of dowdy dresses for smart, curve-enhancing suits. She also quit using Rodham, her maiden name, and became reborn as Hillary Clinton.

It won them over in Little Rock, and Bill Clinton was voted back into office in the 1982 election.

* David Duke was willing to go under the plastic surgeon’s knife in the late 1980s before his run for the U.S. Senate. He changed from a mustachioed, slick-headed brunet into a poufy blond with a new patrician nose and strong-of-character chin. But no amount of mousse could make his constituents forget the old Duke, who wore the white hood of the KKK and proclaimed Nazi sympathies.

* Rose Bird, former chief justice of California, underwent a radical make-over in the early 1980s, when her popularity was on the wane. Voters were mounting a recall campaign, convinced that Bird was letting her opposition to the death penalty color her legal decisions. She went from looking like a mousy, bun-headed schoolmarm with snaggled teeth to a tousle-headed blonde with a cover-girl smile. But her beauty machinations were of little help during the 1986 recall election, though: She was given the heave ho.


* Joyce A. Karlin, the controversial Superior Court judge in the Latasha Harlins case, employed a political consulting firm, Cerrell Associates, and retooled her image before the June 2 elections. She dropped her mall-girl hairdo of long, curly blond locks and adopted a new, sophisticated style. Her hair, still long, was straight and brushed back off her face. A spokesmen for Cerrell Associates said the firm wanted “to make sure that people understand she’s not some kid who just popped out of law school.” The 41-year old jurist retained her Superior Court seat.

Not all make-overs are quite so dramatic.

* U.S. Senate hopefuls Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein seem to be honing their appearances. An L. A. wardrobe consultant, who claims Feinstein as a client, says she is trying to get the candidate to exchange her dress-for-success bow blouses for jewel necklines--with some success.

Boxer’s staff says she is a self-styled woman. But that style has changed over the last few years. Campaign photos indicate that she has abandoned the short, cropped jackets and bow blouses of the past and appears to have learned some wardrobe tricks that camouflage her small stature.


She wears bright colors that make her look larger and long jackets without lapels that are height-enhancing; she gets a lot of altitude out of her high-heeled pumps.

Some politicians have been able to pull off gradual changes without a lot of attention. Elizabeth and Robert Dole undertook self-improvement campaigns in the early 1980s. Nothing too dramatic happened, but a close inspection of photographs of Elizabeth Dole from her early days as the secretary of Transportation (she was appointed in 1983) compared to recent shots of her at the helm of the American Red Cross reveal a more sophisticated, feminine look.

The Doles employed Dorothy Sarnoff, a New York City communications consultant. Unlike most consultants, who won’t name their clients, Sarnoff will claim the Doles. But she won’t give details.

Sarnoff says she emphasizes bearing and presence: “Bearing makes a statement immediately; more superficial is how you put yourself together.”