German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not predict that the dress she wore to the opera on Saturday -- with its very plunging neckline -- would draw as much attention as it did.
"The chancellor was a bit surprised that this evening dress caused such a splash" Thomas Steg, the government's deputy spokesman, told reporters Monday.
"That wasn't the chancellor's intention," Steg assured reporters, adding: "When there's nothing more important in the world to talk about than an evening dress, then you probably can't help it."
The dress in question was a long black dress with a blue bolero shawl. Merkel wore it Saturday evening when she joined King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway for the opening celebrations of Oslo's new 530 million ($840 million) Opera House.
Steg also expressed his hope that the Norwegian royal family did not feel one-upped by Merkel's dress, which admittedly "drew a lot of attention."
Photos of Merkel's cleavage provided fodder for headlines around the world. The Daily Mail British tabloid, for example, ran the title "Merkel's Weapons of Mass Distraction." The popular, Manhattan-based media gossip Web site Gawker, had a page entitled "German Chancellor Angela Merkel not Afraid to Show Her Breastesses" on which it welcomed commentators to make light of the German leader's outfit with quips ranging from the flippant ("Deutschland boober alles") to the political ("Imagine. A female head of state okay with being a woman.").
The media attention comes as part of a trend in focusing on Merkel's appearance. For example, unflattering photos of the chancellor wearing a peach-colored dress with sweat stains under her arms at the 2005 Bayreuth festival were widely circulated.
In 2006, British tabloid The Sun published photos of Merkel changing into a bathing suit while on vacation in Italy, giving its article the headline "Big in the Bumdestag," in a reference to the Bundestag, home of the German federal parliament. The article and photos solicited an indignant response from a number of German publications, which felt the country's leader deserved more respect.
Merkel is not alone in being a high-powered woman with obsessive media attention paid to her appearance. If it is not her clothes, it is often her haircut or makeup.
'Power Suit by Day, Princess by Night'
When it comes to cleavages, US Senator Hillary Clinton and British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith join Merkel as having recently gained attention for wearing low-cut blouses revealing just the slightest hint of cleavage. In June, Hillary's display on the Senate floor prompted articles from the usually more sober Washington Post and the New York Times. Smith precipitated similar attention by doing the same thing just a few months ago while speaking in the British House of Commons.
Merkel, like Clinton, usually appears in much more sensible pant-suits with low shoes. They also share a preference for wearing bright-colored jackets over black outfits.
Germany's male politicians have not been immune to scrutiny of their appearance. Gerhard Schröder, for example, who preceded Merkel as Germany's chancellor, successfully sued German news agency DDP for alleging that he dyed his hair and was experiencing marital troubles.
According to her spokesman, Merkel won't let the media attention affect the way she presents herself. "For future festive events," Steg said, "the chancellor will use her own personal sense of taste, desire and mood in choosing her wardrobe."
Anna von Griesham, who designed the dress for Merkel, told the newspaper Die Welt that Merkel's style was "power suit by day, princess by night."
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