Madame Secretary! Madame Secretary! Who are you wearing?

So you have the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting next to you, and you have a microphone, and she’s speaking to the young people of Kyrgyzstan, and you can ask her questions, and you go with It’s Oscar de la Renta, right? I can tell. It’s totally de la Renta.

MODERATOR 1. Okay. Which designers do you prefer?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?

MODERATOR 1: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question?
(Laughter.) (Applause.)

MODERATOR 1. Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also received a lot of attention for her wardrobe, particularly a full-length wool coat and knee boots that “speak of sex and power” in a way that, one assumes, predecessor Colin Powell’s suits never did. “Fashion icon” Nancy Pelosi once famously side-eyed Washington Post reporter Robin Givhan at a state dinner when she asked who designed the House speaker’s gown. (President Obama chose a Hart Schaffner Marx tux in classic black.)

In local news, a recent article in the Birmingham, Alabama, newspaper profiled UAB’s dean in the School of Education. We’re not told about her extensive research and numerous publications in the field of urban education, her international teaching experience, or her own experience as an elementary school teacher in Birmingham’s public schools. We do learn that she’s 4’11”, likes pantsuits (like the blue silk one she wore to the interview), and stays thin by not eating a lot (which accomplishment is framed as one of her “personal successes”). Curiously, profiles of male deans haven’t mentioned sartorial preferences or diets–even the very thin deans.

The special irony of Clinton’s designer question, NYMag points out, is the advice that Clinton had just given to a young female lawyer.

“It requires, for a woman, usually in today’s world still, an extra amount of effort because I think it’s – the fact that women are still sometimes judged more critically. If you are in the courtroom or you are presenting a case, it still is a fact – and this is not just in Kyrgyzstan, this is everywhere – that when a man walks into a courtroom it’s rare for someone to say, “Oh, look what he is wearing.” (Laughter.) But if you walk into a courtroom, or any young woman walks into a courtroom, people are going to notice. And that will be an additional requirement that you have to meet.”

If you’re asking yourself what a woman’s clothing choices and workout routines have to do with her ability to perform her job alongside men performing identical jobs, why her power and authority are evident only as inferred from her footwear, why husband and kids are always shoehorned into interviews that don’t otherwise concern her husband and kids, why a man can be a senator but a woman has to be a woman senator, you’re looking at it wrong–we’ve actually been shortchanged all this time by reporters who don’t ask these crucial, pertinent questions of our male representatives. Who is Mitt Romney wearing? Does Harry Reid work out? How does John Boehner balance work and home life? Why are we not being told these things? Inquiring minds, it would appear, want to know.

This entry was posted in Fashion, Media & Media Literacy, Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Madame Secretary! Madame Secretary! Who are you wearing?

  1. karak says:

    I would give the reporter who asks Mitt Romney how he feels not loving his children enough by being a full-time worker impacts his identity as a man a million dollars. And the the reporter should askwhere he gets his shoes from. And are they organic.

  2. librarygoose says:

    I would give that reporter a year long standing ovation and carry them triumphantly from all buildings on my shoulders like they just won the the big game.

  3. Angie unduplicated says:

    Waiting, with bated breath, for the moment when one of these accomplished and substantive women replies “What a shallow question! Weren’t you paying attention in journalism classes?”

  4. B says:

    And the next irony is that if a female professional looks very nice in her designer clothes, her male co-workers (and maybe some female co-workers) will be snickered about because she clearly slept her way to the top. Thank-you Hillary, for not answering the question.

  5. Liza says:

    My dad’s a dean, and I’m pretty sure no one has asked what brand his suits are or anything about his belly.

  6. Echo Zen says:

    I’ve seen these quotes going viral since yesterday, even though they’re from a magazine story that’s almost 2 years old. Did something happen on the blogosphere that I missed…?

  7. Susie Q-Bert says:

    Clinton had just spoken about women having an extra burden when it comes to wardrobe management. Couldn’t the interviewer’s question be understood as asking if there are designers she finds reliable for professional attire? The answer may have been useful to young women in the audience who find themselves uncertain what’s appropriate and what’s going to get them criticized.

    If in an interview Michelle Obama said that as a woman in the public spotlight she feels tremendous pressure to stay fit, and the interviewer followed up by asking how she manages to balance fitness and her worklife, or what exercises she enjoyed, would that have been offensive?

    Asking how she dodges bullets doesn’t necessarily imply that the shots are legitimate.

  8. Past my expiration date says:

    Couldn’t the interviewer’s question be understood as asking if there are designers she finds reliable for professional attire?

    Because the interviewer couldn’t think of anything else to ask the U.S. Secretary of State about?

  9. Susie Q-Bert says:

    Because the interviewer couldn’t think of anything else to ask the U.S. Secretary of State about?

    Because the questions came after substantive issues had been discussed, and the interviewer wanted to close on a series of short soft-ball questions.

  10. Clinton had just spoken about women having an extra burden when it comes to wardrobe management. Couldn’t the interviewer’s question be understood as asking if there are designers she finds reliable for professional attire?

    No, not really. I mean, how many men have discussed what kinds of clothing women were allowed – not just preferred, but ALLOWED – to wear, in the last year? And how many of those were immediately quizzed about their own clothing choices?

    Also: “What kinds of clothing would you recommend for women wanting to appear professional? Any designers you prefer?” There, that’s that question without the misogynistic undertones overtones.

  11. konkonsn says:

    Also: “What kinds of clothing would you recommend for women wanting to appear professional? Any designers you prefer?” There, that’s that question without the misogynistic undertones overtones.

    Right. This would have been the better question to ask. Or, if the moderator had wanted to know what Susie Q-Bert suggested, then zie would have followed Clinton’s reply with a clarification.

    People just sometimes are that bad at listening. I taught an undergraduate course for three years, and I was often amazed by the things my students would do even though though they were told not to in class, lecture, the textbook, e-mailed reminders, AND previous homework assignments.

  12. JetGirl says:

    Ha! I did that when I was on the city desk. I got so fed up at the city hall reporter always writing about what the mayor (a woman) was wearing, so I started describing what the men were wearing. Example: “Henry Kissinger stepped up to the podium, wearing a navy blue suit with a charcoal tie…”

  13. Ha! I did that when I was on the city desk. I got so fed up at the city hall reporter always writing about what the mayor (a woman) was wearing, so I started describing what the men were wearing. Example: “Henry Kissinger stepped up to the podium, wearing a navy blue suit with a charcoal tie…”

    At which point you doubtless became the Lady Reporter who Reported in Ladyways, for focusing on clothes.

    Fuck the patriarchy, seriously, fuck it.

  14. JetGirl says:

    Shockingly, no. Both the city hall reporter and the city editors got my point, and the mayor’s clothing was never mentioned again (or at least not by that reporter, and then the next mayor was male). It likely helped that the managing editor, one of the city editors and the business editor were women. We all got together and called bullshit.

  15. \o/ JetGirl, that’s awesome! Go you!

  16. Meik says:

    All the men wear the same thing, suit tie, why would you want to know who designed the suit that looks exactly like the suit all the other men are wearing and you probably already own.

  17. Past my expiration date says:

    There’s an article in the Washington Post today about how Paul Ryan’s clothes are not as well-tailored as Mitt Romney’s.

  18. Henry says:

    @16 @17 what leaders wear is entirely appropriate fluff crap for the fashion mags, as leaders do set fashion trends. It does not otherwise belong in the hard news press. (unless you are so sloppy looking it’s worth noting – e.g. your shirt isn’t ironed and you look like you came in to Congress off an Atlantic CIty bender). I was on a jury where the first point of discussion starte by two of the female jurors was which male lawyer was best dressed. Some of the guys sarcastically followed up with which of the female law student interns was cutest. When I tell lawyers this story it scares the crap out of them, one even asked what types of ties these two poor lawyers wore as if tie choice has now become a determinative factor in court.

    If you want to do a fluff interview about clothes and hair and crap and ask Mitt and Hillary where they shop that’s fine, you can do it in a neutral manner in the appropriate forum. Secretaries of State make decisions that literally kill people, asking about Oscar de la whatever during a serious interview is not appropriate ever, even at the tail end. Same reason no one should have voted Obama because of that shirtless photo. But savy politicians do know that there is a segment somewhere voting on looks and if they can tap it they will – Why do you think Mitt spends so much time prepping his hair? – so props to Hillary C. for shooting it down.

  19. Meik says:

    I think the main problem is there is no buisness uniform for women. A man in congress is the same as a man in the senate or Wallstreet. A guy in a suit with a tie, who looks like millions other guys in a suit with a tie. Women need to come up with a similiar uniform for women, else their wardrobe stands out too much and people are like, oh look at our secretary of state in the white house in Birkenstock.

  20. Henry says:

    They do have uniforms for business women, they are called pant suits and skirt suits. And you get made fun of if you wear them (thanks Letterman for the pant suit “lesbian” subtext comments) and if you don’t you get beauty/slutty/random appearance/fashion comments in the mainstream media (see Condi Rice, also in the Post for the knee high boots, and they wrote the article to encourage women in power to dress sexier *gags* because that is somehow necessary). Tired of seeing this crap in the Post and elsewhere whether it applies to men or women. If we want to discuss whether a politician is hot or not, or what they wear to work, let’s leave it all here where it belongs: http://hottestheadsofstate.wordpress.com/list/

    Oh and Obama I did not vote for you so we could come in 13th place…you got beat by mustache dude from Belarus, start working harder.

  21. konkonsn says:

    I think the main problem is there is no buisness uniform for women.

    The main problem is that they’re women.

    End of story.

    Hilary, Pelozzi, Rice, etc. could all wear the exact same outfit made by the exact same tailor in the exact same color, and people would still comment on who looked best in it or their make-up and hair or how much their outfits cost in this recession, etc.

    Women’s bodies are public property, meant to be commented on for the fuckability. Female politicians need to be taken down a notch, and if we can’t critique their ideas, then their lack of fuckability implies that they and everything associated with them (their ideas) are worthless.

  22. PeggyLuWho says:

    This is totally off topic, but I recently had a funny conversation with one of my cousins. (He’s older and from Iowa and doesn’t have any experience with the tech industry.) Anyway, I was saying something about how I walk to work, and he asked me if I was “one of those women who changes into her pumps when she gets to the office.” I gave him my deadest dead pan look, and replied, “uh…dude….this is what I wore to work today,” gesturing to my holey kneed baggy jeans, trainers, and hoodie. He was floored.

    I would love for someone to ask me “Who I’m wearing”…..

    Uh…..Target.

    Granted, I’m not the secretary of state, but I am a modern professional. In flip flops.

  23. Meik says:

    Peggy you know if you want a career dresswise you shouldnt aim at what you can get away with. It wouldnt be the first time that the slightly less qualified contender gets the promotion because she looks the part more than you do.

  24. Miriam says:

    I love Clinton’s response, just like I did when I first read this in 2010, but I’m with Echo Zen here. Why is this going viral again?

  25. Caperton says:

    I love Clinton’s response, just like I did when I first read this in 2010, but I’m with Echo Zen here. Why is this going viral again?

    I do not know, actually. It popped up in my newsreader, and I went with it. Next time I’ll check dates more closely. (Or go back and add something about the post being “vintage” or “throwback” before anyone notices it’s out of date.)

    I think the main problem is there is no buisness uniform for women.

    Not in a generally recognized way, no, but consider this: Clinton spent much of her presidential campaign in that businessiest of business uniforms–the pantsuit. And her pantsuit wardrobe got nearly as much attention as her policy did.

    The main problem isn’t that women don’t have a business uniform. The main problem is that people see a man at work and look at his work, and they see a woman at work and look at her clothes. A woman’s choice of Tahari vs. Ann Taylor has no more impact on the work she does than a man’s choice of Brooks Brothers vs. Banana Republic. But that point is never going to hit home until we can convince the media that asking gendered questions in professional contexts isn’t appropriate.

  26. Tamara says:

    Did Meik just give PeggyLuWho sartorial career advice?

  27. PeggyLuWho says:

    Tamara, I think Meik thinks I should wear more than 15 pieces of flare.

    In 12 years since he founded our company, our founder has only ever worn a tie once. It was when he was called in front of Congress to testify. Otherwise he shows up in the same baggy jeans and trainers that I do. If I want to be the boss, I should dress like the boss, right?

  28. Pingback: Lovely Links: 8/17/12

  29. Mike says:

    Why cant the reporter ask a woman a question he wouldnt ask a man? It would be a very odd question to ask a man, seen as they all wear very similiar suits with a tie. The situation is different considering the liberties professional women take with their attire.

  30. Pingback: Fashion Vs. Coin-Collecting | My Sex Professor: Sexuality Education

Comments are closed.