Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Hillary's clothes

Hadley Freeman has thought about Hillary and her clothes.

It is obvious to the point of cliche that Clinton is in a trickier position in many ways than Obama: when he is emotional, he is persuasive; when she is emotional, she is betraying her feminist roots. So just as Obama can cut a dash in his slimline, clearly style-conscious suits, Clinton has to hide herself in garishly coloured squares going under the name of "jackets", or else risk being dismissed as so vain that she would be too busy putting on her lipstick to respond to an international terror threat.

But is this necessarily true? One need only look at Condoleezza Rice to see that, contrary to what some might think, American voters aren't always horrified to see a woman in power who doesn't look like Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rice has to placate a far more conservative group of people than the one Clinton is meant to be wooing. Nor did Rice's appearance several years ago in US Vogue seem to harm her credibility. Clinton, on the other hand, was so fearful of such a possibility that she backed out of a shoot with the magazine at the last minute last year, provoking a diatribe from Vogue's editor, Anna Wintour. To make matters even worse for Clinton, who should appear that same month on the cover of Men's Vogue but Obama, appearing very suave and relaxed, whereas Clinton now looked as if she was neurotically focus grouping her campaign to death.

I declare myself to be in the deepest sympathy with any female politician at the receiving end of the mad-dog media about her dress sense. I work in an occupation in which I have little visible public profile, apart from book tours and readings, and my fashion mistakes are not dissected by strangers on a daily basis. I would also point out that Rice cuts a better fashion figure than Clinton because, simply, Rice has a better figure. Hillary has awful legs, she's short, she's stocky. No beanpole myself, I understand how difficult it is to dress this shape. Suits don't suit her.


jakjak said...

Someone once said that when we hear of a male politician referred to by the media as "a dark haired father of three" then we will have equality (obviously not good equality but equality nonetheless)

Toby Wollin said...

With Senator Clinton, I believe you have several threads to her sartorial story. First, and perhaps most powerful is the fact that she is quite short. I think she might even be only five feet tall. As another short woman, I can tell you that a)finding stylish, petite range professional clothing is extremely difficult, and b)as difficult as it is to be taken seriously as a female, that problem is compounded when one is not tall. Now, having said, that, Sen. Clinton is not exactly without financial resources; she could have her clothing made for her and if she did, I would certainly whisper in her ear to "leave off the tapered pants". Nothing makes a short woman look even shorter than tapered pants; they are also murder in terms of the perception of width of the thighs and seat because you have basically an inverted triangle going on between your feet and your waistline. Straight cut or boot cut styles would be much better for her. I have the same build as she does and I look one thousand percent better in those styles. Why does she wear pants? Well, to be frank, I think Sen. Clinton is self-conscious regarding the shape of her legs. The other thing is that as a woman of almost Sen. Clinton's age, I understand her feeling of wanting to be taken seriously. Comparing her to Condoleeza Rice is not a correct comparison as Rice really has no credibility, either in the US or overseas. She is truly seen as "Bush's Poodle". Even Bush's wife, Laura is seen as a more serious person than Condi Rice. So, Rice's forays into boot wearing and sexy suits are not applicable here. Better to try a comparison to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, who tends toward very feminine brightly colored suits. Speaker Pelosi is very comfortable in her gender and identification; she is also a mother and grandmother and has campaigned on those items, so she obviously does not feel that she needs to make a statement of "take me seriously" with her clothing. On the other hand, this is also the person who on the first day of her taking office, said "Impeachment is off the table," which basically eviscerated any power or credibility she might have had. Power red suit or not, Nancy Pelosi "shot herself in the foot".
If we can take one step back from Sen. Clinton and her dress(and the comments about it vs. the comments on Sen. Obama)I'd like to make mention of another, also horrible dressing issue in the US, which is "business casual". This came on the heels of what many people think of as the horrible 80s dressing of women in suits and dresses with shoulder pads. I think "business casual"(which was promoted by Levi Strauss's Dockers Div. as a way for employers to give a benefit which would cost THEM nothing)has been a complete disaster, both for men and women. Employers now have to come out with complex guidelines on everything from footwear(no flipflops or other backless shoes)to tops(no collarless knit shirts with writing on them, no sweats, etc.). The degradation in the level of dress has not had a positive effect on morale in the workplace; as a matter of fact, I think it has actually lowered it. I also think, as a feminist gesture, "business casual" has been bad; I think women are taken even less seriously in the workplace than they were twenty years ago and I think one of the issues there is the level of dress.

Kuri said...

I found Freeman's take on the whole Vogue thing totally bizarre. For most people not immersed in fashion to the exclusion of everything else, it was Wintour, not Clinton, who appeared neurotic.

Also, I'll agree with toby about Rice. I knew her academic work well when I was an IR student. Her decisions in office don't really jive with it very well. She isn't regarded as particularly independent or honest.

I recall having a similar conversation with a friend who declared that no female Canadian politicians dressed well other than Belinda Stronach. I had to object, not only because Penny Priddy dresses fabulously (and being slim and petite like Rice, Priddy could probably pull off anything), but because my friend's examples of bad dressers were women such as Deborah Grey. Politically, I'd never sympathize with Deborah Grey, but one must admit that it's not really fair to compare her to Stronach on appearance and import any notion of personal agency to that.

None of this should really matter that much. I forget who said that politics was "show business for ugly people", but it's a good thing to keep in mind. We aren't looking for perfection from our politicians. Well, I'm not, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I do think she's damned if she does, damned if she doesn't--yes, she's a hard shape to dress (I too have similarities there), but she's also not doing it as well as she might. On the other hand, I think there may be a genuine advantage (much as I hate to say this) to dressing stodgily if you're a woman in a national campaign in the U.S. There's the constant threat of being denounced as frivolous for actually seeming to care about such things. I don't think it would have been as big a deal if she'd managed to dress smartly from the get-go, but at this point a revamp would probably hurt her more than it would help her.

I think Pelosi does dress quite well, but I also think she can politically afford to. She's elected by her district, not the whole country. San Franciscans will be, if anything, pleased if the country thinks their representative is too upscale.

Deja Pseu said...

Rice also wasn't elected to anything. She's an appointee. I'd guess that were she running for office, there would be far more scrutiny of her wardrobe.

phyllis said...

Madeleine Albright is also a woman who is quite petite and stocky; however she is really well dressed, so body type is no excuse. I have beefy legs; I wear skirts all the time, and I look damn good in them too.

Anonymous said...

It's well known that Pelosi's husband buys most of her clothes because he enjoys doing it and has better taste than she. She laughs about it!

It's also true that Pelosi's got a cute figure. And Hillary doesn't.

But, I think Hillary has been looking pretty good recently (sartorially speaking, anyway) and has, at least, moved away from the dreaded pant-suit.

Now, if critics would only take on the awful stupid flag lapel pin! That's a campaign I could behind.

-- desertwind

/anne... said...

The problem with skirts and the public eye is the likelihood of revealing far more than you intended - or even the press just speculating that you have.

Sitting down, getting out of a car, walking up stairs (particularly ones with open treads, or worse - glass!) - these are all fraught with danger.

It's better that the press debates the stylishness of your suit, than the merits of your underwear.

melbournegirl said...

Andrea Merkel would be a more appropriate point of reference in the” Hillary Clinton and her alleged lack of style” debate. There is very little focus on Mrs Merkel’s equally utilitarian approach to her “working clothing”. She is the elected leader of one of the most powerful and richest nations on the Globe, a nation which gave to the fashion World Karl Lagerfeld, Jill Sanders and a formidable quality dress manufacturing industry. Yet her appearance and her less than stylish uniform pant suits are rarely subject to media wide discussions.

Nobody seems to recall either that in 1997 Hillary was on the cover page of the American Vogue (photographed by Annie Lebowitz if I recall correctly) and she looked attractive albeit not a style queen even in the hands of Vogue staff.

Is this strong focus on Hilary’s appearance could be politically motivated after all?

Belle de Ville said...

I also commented about this on my blog. As Toby Wollin commented, not only is she stuck with her body type which isn't exactly Anna Wintour's sleek shape, but besides that, should she sport a wardrobe that send the message that she's more interested in how she looks than what kind of President she will be?
Would I rather see her in dressed by Oscar de la Renta, well yes but nobody ever commented on Golda Meir's wardrobe...or for that matter Angela Merkle's.

melbournegirl said...

Ooops... Frau Merkel is Angela and not Andrea. Mea culpa mea maxima