LAST weekend, Margaux “Mocha” Uson, whom some have come to know as the President’s chief cyber bully and purveyor of fake news, launched her own televised radio talk show on RTVM. In the short 20-minute test run to the pilot show I saw, Uson wore a tailored, pristine, white button-down shirt. She kept it open at the collar and the sleeves resolutely down to the wrists and crisply fastened at the cuffs. Devoid of darts in the front but with a fine-looking pin-tuck at the back, the shirt rippled pleasingly in all the right places. By wearing well that corporate, conservative, and most responsible of sartorial pieces ever to be created for a woman’s wardrobe, Uson projected polish and professionalism. Everyone should fear her. The banal “bold” star is no more.
Whether you regard her as a skillful spin doctor or merely a cheap opportunist, liar and upstart, Uson is proving to be politically astute. Prior to the 2016 presidential elections, Uson was but a minor starlet that traded lucratively on skin and sex. Her raunchy dancing group, the ‘Mocha Girls,’ had gotten some attention in the Philippines and abroad, but there was little to distinguish them from other attractive and ambitious young women who commercially packaged themselves as bimbos and sexpots.
Uson, however, confessed her bisexuality—oh! the conflict of being sexually attracted to both men and women—and pushed a backstory of personal struggle to the fore. Her father was a judge who was murdered. From him she learned about courage to the death, “hanggang kamatayan,” she recalls with an appropriate amount of emotional force. Her mother, a medical physician, battled breast cancer. It fell to Uson, the eldest of three siblings and a medical school dropout, to find the money to pay P2 million worth of medical bills. As she recounted in a number of interviews, she danced and stripped to raise the cash.
In a country addicted to soapy storylines, Uson’s biography is gold. The smutty images of her circulating on the internet are rendered somehow understandable and even solicit empathy. That tawdry picture of her nude body painted in the colors of the Philippine flag, we now know, paid for her mother’s chemo. Think what you like, but the woman clearly has grit. She is also ferociously devoted to the President whom she has exhorted her supporters, all 5 million of them it seems, to view as a father-figure and call “Tatay Digong”. Early last month, Duterte appointed her assistant secretary of the presidential communications operations. It was a reward, he said, for dancing for free in his campaign sorties. Moreover, he rationalized, “there’s no law that says if you expose half of your body, with shorts and bra, you are disqualified.” More significantly, Uson is transforming into one of the most useful creations an authoritarian leader could wish for—a seductive, sharp-tongued political beast of unwavering loyalty. “Presstitute,” that memorable term for the mainstream media who question Duterte, was coined by her.
Uson is done with being half nude. I also suspect that she is done with the midriff- exposing bratops, cut-off tank tops, and stringy vests. As her proximity to power increases, the less flesh she reveals. For her recent interviews and photo-ops, she chose turtleneck sweaters, and leather and suit jackets as cover-ups. But perhaps old habits die hard—the sweaters clung to her bust like candy wrappers. Her initial attempts at wearing the white shirt were exercises in vulgarity and porno-allure. The buttons around the chest visibly strained and threatened to pop.
The classic white shirt, says the designer and white shirt-maker par excellence Carolina Herrera, strikes a pact between it and the wearer. The quality of fabric and a commitment to careful laundering are considerations that raise the status levels of both. It is a garment that Herrera thinks looks better on women when worn with an essential nonchalance, an easy, loose, informality and boyishness. Few professional Filipino women achieve or even strive for this look.
Senators Loren Legarda and Grace Poe both deployed the sartorial power of the white shirt with varying success. While campaigning for the vice presidency with Fernando Poe Jr. in 2005, Legarda wore blue jeans and an immaculate white shirt with her name embroidered on it. She projected an image of glamor, privilege, sophistication and disdain for her poor, grimy constituents. Poe’s all-white ensembles during the 2016 elections flat-lined. They were intended to come across as pure, sober, trustworthy and well-mannered. She looked mostly insipid and dreary. The transgender activist and political science student Sass Rogando Sasot recently gave the white shirt a turn. In a television interview with the seasoned journalist Ed Lingao, Sasot wore a white shirt with a skirt suit that was as weary and jet-lagged as she. The combination hiked and crumpled and wrinkled in places that did little to flatter her gender choices.
Uson is dialing down her voluptuous take on the white shirt to good effect. She doesn’t aim for wholesomeness or virginity. Neither is there the masculine panache that Western designers like to see in their white shirt wearers. Uson’s latest attempt at wearing the white shirt succeeds because she has managed to strike a pose of chic feminine elegance even as she ruthlessly burns those who dare to criticize the President with her acid tongue.