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I am embarrassed to say I failed the Huffington Post test on guessing who Yulia Tymoshenko when presented with a collection of photos of her. For all you fellow dunces, she is the Prime Minister of the Ukraine– and the first female Prime Minister the Ukraine has had.  (My ignorance was especially embarrassing to me because my sister in-law is from neighboring Moldova and I like to pretend that I know what’s going on in that part of the world). She has made the (some say suspect) switch from millionaire oligarch to revolution leader and has ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes twice.

What made the online identification game so challenging is that the accomplished Yulia is an interesting — even daring — dresser. If you scroll through the photo gallery, you’ll see Ms. Tymoshenko accompanying everyone from Vladimir Putin to Viktor Zubkov to a “British heavy metal singer” Sean Carr, and in what clothes! Some choice selections below.

Doesn’t she look like a fierce 16th century warrior princess?? But with sleek 3/4 length skirt (that hugs her curves beautifully, I might add).

Yulia Tymoshenko and Vladimir Putin

Portrait of a Married Woman by Anthonis Mor, 1554

And how sporty is she in her NASCAR-esque turtleneck? The distinctly unsubtle word “revolution” running the length of her arms like DO NOT CROSS police tape is, I assume, reference to her leadership of the Orange Revolution during which, Wikipedia tells me, she was dubbed the “Joan of Arc of the Revolution.” Like a racecar driver, she is advertising her “sponsor” the Orange Revolution in her attire.

Yulia Tomyshenko in Kiev on 12/26/04

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart sporting his (coincidentally orange) sponsor’s logo

I love this one — the close fitting beige gives the shocking illusion of nudity, her breasts barely contained by the skimpy bustier portion. And yet in cut it’s quite conservative, with every inch of her covered by the turtleneck and pleated skirt.  As a side note, I favor a similar style in my own life — both the body hugging-but-covering-naughty-bits-drapery… and also bustiers. 😉

Yulia Tymoshenko at EU headquarters, 1/28/07

First, I have to comment on how goddamn adorable Yulia looks here. She smiles with abandon, looking sincere and actually happy, a sentiment that is not always carried off by smiling politicians who may look false, strained, or smarmy. Clearly the woman loves rockin’ the uni-color ensemble, which — again — I’m fond of. The poofy bicep bells offer some frivolity in an otherwise austere white sweater-turtleneck combo. The brooch also reminds me of 16th century jewelry — pearls were a favorite gem of both Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, who had many garments with them sewn in the cloth (and even in Elizabeth’s hair).

Yulia Tymoshenko on 9/26/08

Queen Elizabeth I

The woman knows what she likes — and she likes high collars that are simultaneously severe and decorative. Yulia returns to 16th century fashions, very much in the male “Spanish style” — that is, mostly black — like Philip II of Spain (1527 – 1598).

Yulia Tymoshenko c. 2006

Philip II of Spain

She is unquestionably feminine with her up-do and her penchant for figure hugging clothes, but the embellishments Yulia favors are almost always masculine (if dated ideals of masculinity, such as ruffled shirts), externalizing what must be a daily struggle: being a female politician in the male dominated world of politics. The ruffled shirt has most recently been a Victorian trend (big surprise with Yulia!), but has earlier roots in 18th century menswear.

Yulia Tymoshenko during Orange Revolution corruption scandal

Portrait of a Victorian Woman in White by William de Leftwich Dodge, 1891

“Man Wearing a Green Velvet Jacket and Heavily Embroidered Waistcoat,” Alexis N. S. Belle, 18th Century

And here again, Yulia plays with conservative, traditional dress motifs. The lace — a fabric with a strong luxury tradition but a current association perhaps more of old ladies — is here turned from a subtle embellishment to grand statement motif. The rest of the outfit tempers the tattoo-like boldness of the lace with its neutral gray 3/4 length suit-like fit, paired with the familiar high, prim neckline, and feminine bubble sleeves. This outfit was aptly deemed “strict but sexy” by the Komsomolska Pravda newspaper.

Yulia Tymoshenko on 2/4/06, when she received the record number of votes as the prime minister

Ms. Tomyshenko proves that you can be taken seriously as a political figure (I write this without intricate knowledge of her policies, but I’m assuming enough took her seriously to get her elected) in creative dress. I love that she incorporates the traditional folksy milkmaid plaited braid, juxtaposed with her otherwise very modern sartorial sensibility, with nods to history. Supposedly her coiffure was an homage to Lesya Ukrainka, one of the Ukraine’s foremost poets from the late 19th, early 20th centuries.

I enjoy the way she embraces the presentation of her femininity too, with her figure hugging clothes and stylized long hair (a far cry from the chopped Hilary Clintons and Nancy Pelosis); one could argue that Yulia’s interest in fashion in and of itself is an unapologetic display of a passion typically associated with women, which she clearly revels in. I am heartened to have my belief confirmed that having fun with one’s wardrobe does not automatically make a woman frivolous, as many still think (none who read this blog, I trust!).