In this article, the topic of political fashion – that is, the expectations put upon women in politics to dress a certain way, and the inevitable blurred line between a woman’s dress and her credibility as a politician – is yet again examined. With last month’s election sending a record 16 women to the U.S. Senate, it makes sense that discussing Hillary Clinton’s Alice in Wonderland follies (read the article) would once again be worth a hard look…right? For more sarcasm and a hilarious gender-bender of this article – check out feministing’s cheeky attempts at go fug yourself style fashion disses toward well known-male politicians.
The article contains some of the strangest “expert commentary” about Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and others, that I have come across in a while – convincing me that historian Catherine Allgor’s quote that “It has everything to do with our confusion about how we feel about women in power. We are confused about that,” is the only worthwhile and revealing statement in the entire article.
However, as someone who enjoys fashion with a dash of feminist satire, here are my tips for being a successful woman in politics, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
1. Developing a nice glow is endearing and reminds us that you are, most importantly, a sexual being.
“Her choice of clothing has been very sleek, very smart, beautifully proportioned. She keeps a light touch to the top of her face so she’s not all dark. That sort of gives her a nice glow” - Stan Herman on Nancy Pelosi
2. Don’t be too fashionable that you alienate the average Wal-Mart shopper.
“She’s got a great haircut, great colors, great outfits. She has found her style. Not only does she look the best she’s ever looked, it’s not so fashionable that middle-class, average Americans are turned off by it.” – Mary Marsh on Hillary Clinton
4. Leave the flash for Vegas and the pants to the men, and please don’t be too pretty.
“If they start to emulate the male completely, it’s a bad scene. They should retain the right to be an exuberant dresser. That will give them their own pedestal to stand on.” Stan Herman, designer of the new Jet Blue uniforms
“It’s not about looking good, We don’t like women who are too flashy. We like it but they belong in Hollywood on the red carpet. It’s really about caution.” – Catherine Allgor, hopefully being cautiously ironic.
3. Whatever you do, don’t wear pink.
“I love pink and I have a beautiful pink outfit. But I rarely will wear that to high-powered meetings because I don’t want the first impression to be ‘how sweet’ because I’m not there to be sweet. You do have to be careful because colors and styles set the tone for how a person perceives or receives you.” – Valerie McDonald Roberts, first African-American woman elected to Pittsburgh’s City Council.
While it is heartening to see the media attempting to communicate the idea that when fashion is culturally read on the body – particularly the female body – that analysis is revealing of a society’s relationship to things like power, gender, class etc. However, these kinds of articles do little more than reveal inequities, allow for confusion, cite a few experts, and then wait a few months before the idea sounds new again. By not looking deeper the articles never go furthur. Women still accept the idea that when a girl goes to sit down at the big boy table, she should worry more about what those men might think about what she is wearing than what she is saying, and those suits feel entitled to dissect a woman’s personal appearance in a way that would be unheard of XY to XY.