As the regular Louisiana Legislative Session wrapped up on June 6, the undercover owner of one Instagram account, “la_sessionistas,” has made capturing and showcasing the best fashion trends at the Capitol a mission.
Session has also become a stage to showcase the most vibrant of power suits, dresses, coats and shoes.
“It’s a great repository for all the well-dressed players in the Capitol, including members and lobbyists,” said Kim Carver, from Mandeville. Carver, senior vice president at Gulf Coast Bank, handles government relations. “And, we all secretly hope we will make it into a post.”
Greg Aucoin, a retired judicial district court judge from Morgan City, has taken a look at the Instagram chronicles of fashion at the center of Louisiana politics and has sartorial opinions as certain as the legal ones he handed down.
“Never trust a man in a Brooks Brothers suit and white socks. He’s fake,” said Aucoin. “You never, ever wear white socks.”
Many at the Capitol seem to realize that clothing is often curated to exude specific messaging. Aucoin thinks every detail counts when trying to send a message. He said that he especially kept this in mind when he was a trial court lawyer. He explained that clothing matters when someone is in front of others whose opinions they are attempting to sway.
Fashion has been at the intersection of politics since long before Jacqueline Kennedy donned a Halston pillbox hat for the 1961 presidential inauguration. State Rep. Tanner Magee, from District 53, believes fashion has a “definite” impact on politics.
“Making judgments and assumptions of people based on visual perception is part of human nature,” Magee said. “From trying to stand out in a crowd of 105 state [representatives] to projecting an identity among your peers.”
He explained that advocates and lobbyists may dress specifically to convey a message to the representatives and senators at the Capitol. For example, certain lobbyists are known for their flamboyant and expensive suits. Magee said he believes this sends a message that their clients have wealth and status.
Mary-Patricia Wray, founder of Top Drawer Strategies, expressed the same sentiments.
Wray said people often think she is the owner of the anonymous Instagram account, but in 2019, she was featured on its predecessor, lasessionistas — also reportedly managed by the same undercover fashionista.
Wray said that, most of the time, lobbyists with loud suits represent loud industries. She gave the example of the gaming industry in Louisiana.
“When you’re representing the gaming industry, you’re not gonna show up in a blue sport coat and khakis. You’re representing the party and feel-good industry,” Wray said. “So you wouldn’t even get that job if you were a boring person.”
Wray said that most men in the Capitol, however, are not trying to stand out, which aligns with part of their mission in the legislature.
“They want their bills to get as little notice as possible,” Wray said. “They are there to shepherd their pieces of legislation through the process and quietly finish it. They’re not looking for a brand.”
Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education, said she thinks fashion is a portal to promote one’s advocacy.
“I think there’s absolutely something to be said about knowing that you are appropriately dressed and sending the clear message that you are here about the work at hand,” Reed said.
For instance, on National Teacher Appreciation Day during this session, Reed wore a “Save the Children” scarf, which was from her mother who was an educator. She said wearing the accessory made her feel special and close to her mom.
The Board of Regents, which Reed is a part of, makes a subtle statement in the legislature with their branded socks. Stakeholders and higher education champions receive these socks from the board as a thank you for their advocacy. Recently, Reed said that Fred Blankenship, a news anchor at WSB-TV in Atlanta, wore his socks on air.
From the beginning, the Instagrammer la_sessionistas intentionally excluded the subject’s face in her fashion photos. The photos are not curated or posed, making the account about the clothes, not the people. In each picture, the identity of every person is anonymous. Though, some legislators repost the picture if they notice themselves in one. Some lobbyists have been heard to say that being featured on the account was a goal for the session.
There are fashion choices for every taste on the account — lace, seersucker, statement socks or patterned skirts. Regardless of politics, fashion is one thing that unifies everyone.
Meg Sunstrom, the deputy commissioner for strategic communication for the Louisiana Board of Regents, said the Instagram account allows people to have fun and talk about something other than the hard policy issues.
“I just think it’s something that brings people together from both sides of the aisle,” Sunstrom said. “To have somebody who is putting it all in one place and documenting the things that you see every day is wonderful.”
Fashion rules at the Capitol reflect the state’s general joie de vivre. Louisianians seem to be more daring in their pursuit of a good outfit.
Sunstrom thinks that this particular year in session has had a certain “flare” that is different from the past. She said this is attributed to the decline of COVID-19 and our ability to gather again.
“Everybody’s looking forward to getting out of their stretch pants and putting on their Sunday best,” Sunstrom said.
Aside from unification and self-projection, fashion’s ability to affect confidence may be the biggest upside of them all. Clothes affect and convey a mood, which in turn affects a person’s productivity and work ethic. More specifically, in the Capitol and in politics in general, confidence means everything.
The fashion Wizard of Oz watches over the Louisiana Legislative Session with great respect for the clothes, the people and the job at hand. She curates the Instagram account as an exploration of “Louisiana Capitol’s sartorial expressions,” per the account’s Instagram bio.
From the pictures featured on the page, one can see that clothing is not only an outward expression of the inner self but sometimes a suit of armor to get the job done.