As New York magazine’s Washington correspondent, Olivia Nuzzi has a front seat to the most chaotic White House in memory. While clothes understandably take a back seat to scoops, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to look stylish.
Nuzzi has risen through the ranks at an enviable speed. But the 24-year-old started early. At 18, she began her journalism career at the TriCityNews, an alt-weekly in New Jersey’s Asbury Park. While at Fordham University, she wrote for the magazine NSFWCorp. An account of her experience as an intern for Anthony Weiner’s doomed mayoral campaign landed her a front-page story in The Daily News. She left Fordham shy of a degree for a full-time job at The Daily Beast, where she initially covered Chris Christie and the Bridgegate scandal. After three years there, she left for New York magazine — and Washington, D.C. — in January to cover the new administration.
But despite living in D.C. for nearly a year, Nuzzi still has a New Yorker’s sensibility when it comes to fashion and says she would “rather eat cement” than go shopping in Georgetown.
WWD: How would you characterize the dress code for White House correspondents?
Olivia Nuzzi: Reporters at the White House dress pretty much the same as professionals anyplace else in politics, which is to say not especially well. There are individual exceptions, but generally the print reporters dress like the Selma Blair character from “Legally Blonde” and the TV reporters dress like the Reese Witherspoon character. It’s dresses, skirts, tailored pants, blazers, and so on.
WWD: Are there any items in your profession that are off-limits? Or should be?
O.N.: I would appreciate it if I never had to see a pair of Tory Burch flats ever again, or any kind of fluttering sleeve or whimsical cutout. But I would extend these requests to all areas of life, not just to the briefing room.
WWD: What are the major differences between how political reporters dress in D.C. and in New York?
O.N.: In D.C., you’re more likely to see preppy clothing than you are in New York — Lily Pulitzer, the aforementioned Burch, that kind of stuff. Not that reporters are known for their style anywhere, but it’s just an uglier city across the board. People in D.C. get very defensive about this sort of thing which is how you know it’s true.
WWD: What’s been the catalyst or catalysts driving changing dress norms in your industry?
O.N.: I can’t speak from experience but if you go back and look at, say, pictures of Leslie Stahl covering the White House in the Seventies and Eighties, it seems like the standard here has always been to just dress professionally for the era. I think professional dress has become less formal over time for women, and women seem less inclined to emulate men in their dress now. I’ve never felt like I needed a blazer to be taken seriously, you know? Which is not to say that I won’t wear one from time to time, but if I’m wearing one, it’s because I think it’s cute, not because I think it’s required.
WWD: Is there an official dress code? What about unofficial?
O.N.: I don’t know that there are actual rules like there are in Congress, where men are supposed to wear jackets and ties and women are supposed to wear sleeves (the latter of which was recently interpreted as some kind of sexist decree by idiots), but generally reporters here look like they’re making a conscious effort to not look homeless. Looking homeless is for the campaign trail.
WWD: Has the dress code changed under the current administration?
O.N.: I can’t speak to that because I didn’t cover the Obama White House, but certainly on the staff level, particularly among the less senior women, you see a lot of flouncy sundresses and platform sandals — not what you’d expect in a White House, or in any professional environment in D.C., but definitely standard for, say, the Trump Organization. But I like that and think it’s fun, I would much prefer that to a sea of beige, boxy blazers and sad court shoes.
WWD: What are the differences in how male and female reporters dress? Do men have it easier?
O.N.: I’ve only ever been a female reporter so I can’t compare my experience to my male colleagues, but I would guess it’s like any other industry that requires or encourages professional dress, in that the process is streamlined for men by virtue of their limited choices. Women have more options, so there’s more room for self-expression but also more room for error, and greater likelihood that we’ll be judged or assessed by what we choose to wear. But I would hate to be stuck in the Rose Garden in a suit and tie and dress shoes when it’s 100 degrees outside. I don’t envy male reporters.
WWD: How do you shop for work clothes?
O.N.: Remember that scene in “The Simple Life” where Paris Hilton is asking if they sell Marc Jacobs in a bodega? I can and will and do shop almost anywhere, but living in D.C., I tend to buy most of my clothes online, since it’s not as easy to shop as it is in New York and I would rather eat cement than roam around Georgetown.
WWD: Who or what is the biggest influence on what you put on for work?
O.N.: Dressing for work for me isn’t divorced from dressing for any other aspect of my life, I guess because this isn’t a nine to five kind of job, you know? I don’t stop being or feeling like a journalist at 6 o’clock. I never consciously think about it, but I’m attracted to women and characters who dress very simply and elegantly, but not stiffly — somewhere between Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct,” [founder of The Wing, a women’s social club and workspace] Audrey Gelman and Queen Letizia.
WWD: How different is your weekend look from you work wardrobe?
O.N.: It’s probably most different in the spring and summer. I wear all of the sundresses that I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing to the White House, or flat shoes, which I would never wear to work or TV.
WWD: Given a choice, would you dress more formally or more casually?
WWD: Do you follow fashion trends or prefer to stay true to your style or your profession’s codes?
O.N.: I’m conscious of trends and of how I want to present myself in the world, but I tend to just like what I like. I don’t ever stress about this sort of thing — I think it’s really fun to get dressed. When I was a kid, I remember there were like five minutes where I was obsessed with thinking I wanted to play golf because I wanted to have spiky shoes and wear polos. I love having an occasion to pick an outfit.
WWD: Do you have any favorite brands or shops that you return to time and time again?
O.N.: For staples, I gravitate towards The Row, Theory, Reformation, Sandro, Elizabeth and James, Equipment, Black Halo, and Rag & Bone. My favorite dress of all time is this black Row midi dress that’s sleeveless with a crew neck and cut very close to the body, and you can wash and dry it and it doesn’t wrinkle if you, like me, “pack” by throwing things into a bag and running out of the door. I wear it so much, I put blouses under it sometimes or I wear it with a belt or I just wear it as is.
And then I shop a lot at ASOS, Réalisation, Pixie Market, Brandy Melville, The Kooples and previously American Apparel, so I guess I need to find something to fill that void now that they don’t exist anymore. I’m highly susceptible to targeted ads, too — so if a cute dress pops up on the side of an article I’m reading there’s a 100 percent chance I will get distracted from whatever I was doing and potentially buy said dress. Sometimes this leads you to, like, Net-a-Porter or The Outnet or Shopbop and sometimes it leads you down a rabbit hole of weird Asian websites with extremely inexpensive dresses that end up being hit or miss, the overlords of which have probably stolen my identity. It’s fine. And we have this section at New York called ‘The Strategist’ that I’m really obsessed with, too — they’re always recommending good stuff or compiling lists of interesting things that are on sale.
WWD: What’s your favorite purchase of the last few months and why?
O.N.: I love dresses. I feel best in dresses. But I got this burgundy suit from Argent, and I’m so into it.