Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky for Reformation. Courtesy of Reformation

As modern style icons go, Monica Lewinsky is perhaps one of the most unexpected. Unlike most who dominate our newsfeeds, she can't be identified by a singular trend-led moment or front-row fashion week appearance. And despite being largely unrecognizable to most of Gen Z until she appeared in Reformation's "You've Got the Power" campaign—a capsule of workwear pieces that simultaneously encourages women to vote ahead of the 2024 presidential election— Lewinsky's role in it, has been a resounding hit.

This foray into the style spotlight started with a teaser post on Instagram of an as-yet-unrecognizable Lewinsky, sitting on a desk, back to the camera, sporting a white shirt and black pencil skirt; a look that alluded to HBO's 2002 documentary, Monica in Black and White (in which she headlined for reasons that will make sense later). The measure of the campaign's success? 48 hours after it was uploaded, it generated $2.2 million in Media Impact Value, according to a Launchmetrics report, and a cool $96,000 for the sustainably minded store's own Instagram account, which broke the news. Elsewhere on social media, creators labeled Lewinsky an "icon", while one awestruck TikToker commented, "Baller. Girl's back. Bill Clinton, who?"

Rewind 26 years, and Monica Lewinsky unwittingly smashed the internet just as it was getting started. The now 50-year-old activist and author was once a 22-year-old White House intern embroiled in an affair with the former president that led to his impeachment. The story was the first to ever break online, ahead of traditional news outlets, and the backlash was quick, brutal, and entirely unprecedented. Back then, with no #metoo movement to help vocalize her side of the story, she was branded a whore and cyber-shamed. As she put it, "Who hasn't done something they regret in their twenties?" The humiliation that followed, which Lewinsky discussed in a 2015 Ted Talk titled The Price of Shame—which calls for a bullying-free society and has garnered over 21 million views—effectively sent her into hiding only to reemerge and spearhead the fight against cyberbullying, of which she was the first victim.

Now, thanks to her debut fashion campaign, she can reap the benefits of an evolved public perception. "She's like a '90s-era Marilyn Monroe," says London-based author and fashion critic, Angela Buttolph. "It's similar to how Gen Z discovered Kate Bush through Stranger Things. With Lewinsky, they must've asked, how did we not know about this extraordinary moment in history where this woman was effectively burnt at the stake?"

A quintessential survivor who has risen above the patriarchal mindset that was pervasive when the scandal hit, Lewinsky—a writer and producer who advises anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution—is perfectly positioned to encourage women to take civic action. She is quoted on the store's landing page thus: "Voting is using your voice to be heard, and it's the most defining aspect of democracy. If you wanna complain for the next four years, you gotta go out and vote."

Donning a rotation of timeless, business-ready pieces—a monochromic tailored suit, demure polka-dotted dress, and red top and circle skirt—she makes a striking poster girl for Reformation's sex-positive generation of career women. But that's not to say, for the TikTok generation she is newly inspiring, trends don't play a part. It just so happened that as her campaign launched, the stars aligned, and over in Europe during the Fall/Winter 2024 shows, designers as disparate as Max Mara and LaQuan Smith found inspiration in new takes on corporate uniforms, which Vogue dubbed, "a commentary on late-stage capitalism and the dismantling of symbols of power in a now lost world of work."

While Lewinsky may identify with some of that story's theme, she reappears in it now as the embodiment of power dressing at its finest. "She's an extraordinary figure," continues Buttolph. "Everyone saw her as a victim, but she's a survivor who's turned up again looking sexy and amazing in a scarlet outfit. That's a formidable way to reclaim your own narrative."

While that bright red look nods towards the idea of a scarlet woman, now empowered, the sophisticated workwear aesthetic plays tribute to the corporate uniform she donned in the 90s as the scandal broke. Her closet's focus has shifted in the years since but following a decade in Europe (during which she studied at the London School of Economics), she reemerged with a more streamlined style. Case in point: the minimal, vermillion gown she was pictured wearing at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in 2015. It was a far cry from the playful beret she wore while hugging President Clinton at a White House event in 1998 or the controversial blue dress that contained evidence of their affairs and remains as synonymous with the scandal as they do.

But then, Lewinsky isn't considered a style icon because of her wardrobe choices. She's a style icon because of what she's overcome and what she stands for now. That her campaign has been so successful suggests we're making some progress. Now, let's go out and vote.

© Copyright Fashion Times 2024. All rights reserved.