According to Google’s search feature, Amal Clooney has topped at least six best dressed lists in the past week. There’s a feature on Vanity Fair’s website detailing a gold dress she is wearing in Ibiza and USA Today has really taken to a cream-colored cardigan she wore to carry around a case of Casamigos tequila.
Not covered in these pieces are any number of the criminal law or extradition cases she has likely been working on through the course of the summer. And that’s fine — a metallic garment is far easier on the eye than extensive legal papers. But watching these lists (ushered by Vogue, the anterior Vanity Fair, People StyleWatch and the other multifarious permutations of tabloid magazines) place Clooney on a style pedestal has brought up a question we touched upon last summer: what makes someone a fashion icon?
Emilia Petrarca, who initially posited the question on Man Repeller in response to a New York Times piece that argued Beyoncé was a cultural icon but not one of style, surmised that “if someone’s style embodies any cultural zeitgeist, they can be considered an icon.” Gloria Steinem, a journalist and activist before an amber-lensed aviator-wearer, is a prime example.
But where does this leave Clooney? Has she in some way been forced into the category of style icon when really, as Mattie Kahn put it, she’s “an elegant woman who looks wonderful in mostly unadventurous clothes”? Does she consistently top these lists because before anything else, she’s an aspirational role model (that is, a smart woman with a successful career, who married into fame while never intending to command it, and who has built a style niche that is not at all contingent on her being an “insider”) who also extols a level of attainability? Here is a woman who has racked up clout dependent on her stratus as an excellent lawyer but who, in spite of that, has become publicly known not just as the woman who married George Clooney, but the woman who wears clothes.
The American way is such that we are constantly looking to identify public people as our homegrown versions of royalty. The Kardashians, The Z’s and One Direction pre-hiatus are all proof of this. Amal Clooney is proof of this. But what are we hoping to achieve in assigning these titles? Are they larger reflections of who we’d like to be? Does the emphasis we put on the package deal — lithe body parts, a symmetrical nose and Celebrity-with-a-capital-C cloud the more important traits? That is: honesty, humility, respect, a good work ethic and so forth?
Or maybe it’s something else all together. Does this all boil down to a war called Achieve the Highest Ranking SEO? If so, are we — the consumers who contribute to the analytics — precisely those who feed the beast that favors sellable content and their people? Or is it the other way around? Are we, in fact, feeding the beast, or are we simply hungry and thus eating from the beast?