Let’s Talk About Talking About Hillary

New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman’s take on Hillary Clinton’s style may have been written two years ago, but given the current election brouhaha, it still feels incredibly relevant, which is why we are resharing this content today.

On Wednesday morning Vanessa Friedman, who recently replaced Cathy Horyn as chief fashion critic at The New York Times, wrote a piece on Hillary Clinton’s style in lieu of the release of her book, Hard Choices. Before the memoir even hit shelves, jokes were made about about Hillary’s wardrobe. One Washington Post commenter suggested that she call the memoir, “The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair.” In Friedman’s article, she admits to the ridiculousness of our culture’s obsession with not only Hillary’s scrunchies, but also every woman in power’s wardrobe choices. She writes:

Indeed, it’s easy, both while reading the blog and listening to Mrs. Clinton, to want to join in with the laughter and eye-rolling, and cry: “Yes! It is ridiculous. Why don’t we stop all this nonsense?”

But then she goes on to offer a different perspective:

Much is made of the clothing double standard, and how it is unfair to women in power because they are constantly critiqued while men are allowed to get away with wrinkles and gray hair and the same suit (or what looks like the same suit) for days in a row. But the real double standard in the dressing issue is why world leaders and captains of industry are expected to set, and feel the responsibility for setting, the sartorial standards for only one sex.

In sum, Friedman argues that we shouldn’t stop talking about what women in power wear — a stance that not all feminist critics agree with. She begs the question: why avoid talking about something we all do? Everyone has to get dressed in the morning, and whether we like it or not people are going to make assumptions about us based on our clothing.

Rather than side-stepping the issue, Friedman poses an alternative: let’s talk positively about politicians’ style because these women are role models. Instead of looking up to celebrities, who don’t even dress themselves, let’s focus on women who’ve managed to “dress for success” in an predominantly male environment. The problem is not talking about style, rather our tendency to critique women and let men set the style status quo.

But won’t talking about powerful women’s style distract from all the actual hard work they’re doing? Friedman says no, we need to normalize this kind of conversation and thus find room to talk about both. Additionally, she proposes that what you wear can reflect your politics.

But what if you don’t want Hillary to be your sartorial role model? What if you don’t want to dress like a politician or try to fit into a world where men are the ones in charge? Besides, politicians aren’t dressing themselves either. Does wearing a pantsuit mean that you’re challenging the patriarchy, or perpetuating it?

Though Friedman’s attempt to turn a lose-lose situation for most women in power into a winning one is commendable, we still have some questions about her argument. Yet here we are, talking about Hillary’s style. So, should we all just shut up, or keep going? What do you think?

— By Emilia Petrarca

  • BethanyBeach

    I think that talking about their wardrobes is inevitable but it should not be the main focus; rather, we should redirect the focus to their actual policies and actions.

  • Quinn Halman

    This is so crazy; I’m meeting Hillary later today!! I also have no idea what to wear to this thing either! HELP!!

    I also think it’s so talked about because women have more options than men who just usually have the shirt, pants, blazer, and tie (generally). I think it can be important though because she outfits herself knowing that she’ll be seen by many people, some of them love her and some of them hate her. Getting dressed for that many people can be a series of hard choices (HA) and if you miss a step in that detail it begs the question where else would you miss a detail? Additionally, so much is visual now and if she’s making an important speech or in a press conference, she’ll want the attention on what she’s saying but in order for that to happen the attention must be on her hence she must be visually appealing.

    I’ll let you guys know what she was wearing

    • Mary

      this line really sums up for me, what is wrong with the constant critiquing of a female leader’s outfit .. ” and if you miss a step in that detail it begs the question where else would you miss a detail?” so that means we draw the conclusion that if her blazer clashes with her shoes, that shows a lack of attention to detail, not dissimilar to missing a detail when, for example, signing a peace accord in the middle east. Really? like really? are clothes and leading the country or a business equally important? ‘cos if that’s the case, we should definitely be applying that logic to men too.

      • Quinn Halman

        Yes, really. I’m not limiting this logic to only Hillary and only to women and I’m also not the only one who applies this logic. I’m also not saying that what you wear is equally as important to leading a country/company, but it has a lot of potential to make or break a case because a lot of how people perceive you at first glance comes from how you look. True story: an engineering company was looking to hire and one guy who applied, a brilliant mathematician, made a grammatical error. Due to that mistake, the company didn’t hire him. He would have been writing code not essays but the theme of having an attention to detail applies.
        Do I think it should be the main focus? Absolutely not. But does part of Hillary’s twitter biography have “pantsuit aficionado” in it? Yes.

    • You know that statement how we are all 8 persons away from each other (or similar)? Let’s do a science experiment: Say hello to Hillary from me and we’ll have it cut down to 2 persons (that would be Leandra and you) 😀

      OK, now to what I really wanted to say: I assure you Mrs. Merkel’s blazers & Co. are not considered important in Germany – apart from the time of coalition building, directly after the election. Since she’s always wearing the same blazer, only in different colors, it’s the color we are interested in: will she wear green? Red? Who can hope to rule with her? But not even this is done seriously, everyone knows Angie doesn’t care for little symbol games.

      So yes, politics without fashion can be done: it has always been done here, more or less (Chancellor Schroeders suits were instantly recognized as expensive and that was a problem).

      • Sally

        I think we should keep going, talking about it, absolutely and it should be considered important right now so it can become truly unimportant one day.
        What upsets me about Angela Merkel for example is that she has completely given up any fashion claim. She has, in my opinion, completely adapted and given in to the patriarchal rules and thereby keeps reinforcing them. People always talk about how she is a role model for women, but she actually is not, because she is not perceived as female in the public eye.
        Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying what she did was not remarkable and I also think that at that time and still right now, her way is probably the only way. I just think that our aim should be to overcome this dichotomy man/women one day to achieve true equality and fashion is a great means for women in power to start challenging it.

        So instead of ignoring that we live in a male dominated society with politics being one of the strongest catalysts, let’s start challenging patriarchy by using fashion (which has always been perceived as a completely female territory by the public) to change the game instead of just playing by their rules.

        • Yes! … I mean, yes, absolutely, I am convinced that by talking about just how male dominated this world can be, we will help reach the point when no talking need be done, because gender domination will not be an issue (I can’t tell you how much I envy those future generations, should they ever exist, who will get to do things they want, male or female).

          Now, I don’t think Angela Merkel gets to play a (big) role in that: in my opinion, she doesn’t care for fashion because she is that kind of woman. People simply accept her like that and that’s it. I remember she was once showing some serious
          and people went Aaaah that day, the day after and
          that was it. Neither seems to matter: pantsuit, cleavage, who cares,
          what about our rent? And new jobs? 🙂

          Back in bad old socialism, we were treated like equals way too often at school and I went and believed it and behaved like we were all equal just about everywhere and still do so (often not a good idea). So in my childhood, clothes weren’t important and/or available and I managed to survive the teenage years equipped with just a few beloved ones – I would imagine things were not that different in Eastern Germany. I don’t know for sure, of course, I might be projecting, but I know being a girl/a woman who doesn’t care too much about clothes is a possible option. Such women exist (the natural order of life priorities differing even among women) and should have the right to exist, even as politicians. If something is not a topic to them, why should we force it down their throats? There are enough other famous people in this world who can teach us about fashion and male domination should we need them. This whole role model thing needs a good portion of shattering, too. Most people should be able to question most positions on their own, without people on telly leading them on, I think. I often imagine Barack Obama, Pope Franciscus & Co. are having nightmares because they have become role model objects to so many other people and there’s nothing to be done against it. Objects have no say in this story.

          Instead of waiting for Hillary to shake the male domination by wearing something special, we should be doing something against it on our own. Using means fit for the purpose – they won’t be clothes in all situations. Or hair. But knowledge and experience could be useful. Humor is a good idea, too. Tolerance and lack of vanity might come in handy, too.

          (Disclaimer: I do not vote for Angie’s CDU and I am not her biggest fan (despite calling her Angie), but I generally feel the need to protect other people’s right to be who they are, because it is one of my own biggest needs. Also: this is supposed to be a free world. There are people who fought for it.)

          • Sally

            Yes, yes, yes, I agree with everything you said. I too think that Angie (same disclaimer here ;)) is just not a fashion person to say the least and would not be even if she was not in her position. I have a very strong sense for equality and the freedom of being who you are and wearing what you want too, that includes not caring about it at all.
            But I also think when you are in a public position of power, being a role model comes with it (and we pay them well enough for their nightmares) and I demand that you take a stance: If she truly did not care at all, I am absolutely fine with it, but then she should make that her statement – and that would mean also not wearing pantsuits like the men do.

            It just makes me mad when people over stylize Angie as the model example of gender equality, I always feel like shouting “Noo, she’s not, she simply adapted and became male herself, that’s the opposite of promoting equality“ and I too remember that cleavage incident, but I see it as a prime example for said dilemma (which applies to Hillary too):

            No one wanted to discuss it any longer than necessary because the discussion alone would mean we acknowledge her as a female human being (as this is generally how females are present in the media today: through the discussion of their looks and their female body parts).

            But we want to see her only as a political leader, if we started discussing her as a female and a leader that would seriously challenge the basic order (man vs. women) our whole society is build around, and that’s terrifying. So we keep ignoring it rather than facing what’s so odd about seeing her showing cleavage.

            The socialist background is a definitely something I hadn’t in mind at all, super interesting to read your experience and you are probably right concerning her. And yes, we should always start with ourselves and what we can improve, but that’s why in a democracy I have the right to demand the same effort of my representatives.

            Like I said before, I just fear that the trend of the past years to ignore these issues completely under the pretense of them being irrelevant and somehow irrational (and feminist being a swear word) is leading to regression in equality rather than progress. This makes me fear for future generations rather than envy them.

            (I am doing a lot of research on this topic right now that’s why I am so passionate about it, I hope I am not annoying the fellow man repellers here ;))

          • OK, let me just answer those aspects that became clear(er) to me when reading your answer:

            – pantsuits: my brain cell does not know the connection rainbow-colored painsuits – male fashion (I assume you know Merkel wears the whole Pantene collection :-). To be honest, I do not connect pantsuits with men: since I belong to the generation of women who were allowed to wear pants (never saw my granny in them!), I have (emotionally and rationally) taken them for gender-free. Even as suits. (You know, I often buy menswear, because it is often better made. I also have a figure of Khloe Kardashian before weight loss. To me, nothing about pants ever says “bowing down to men”, it is just a buxome middle-aged wanting to go practical and comfortable – this is also my first assumption about other women wearing any trousers, regardless of their position).

            – public position of power: I agree such persons need to act accordingly – I think they should be allowed to choose their fields of public action by their own. Angie never displays much public love for children – she does have step children and step grandchildren, but we were allowed to find out about them some time last year or so. It is okay to chose the building stones of one’s public persona and refuse those you don’t want to display, imho. But I don’t think she’s really well-paid 🙂

            – I don’t know (I really don’t) how much she is an example of gender inequality, but I don’t think she’s generally considered to have succumbed to men and/or male principles. On the contrary: she’s driven away quite a few male politicians without appearing overtly dangerous and losing her Mutti image (as they say, when she claims a politician is worthy of her total trust, this ususally means he’s done, finito, landed in Merkel’s cemetery). And it is often emphasized that she takes much, much time to mule things over, that her decisions are mostly based on loads of reflecting, thinking, weighing … meaning this is the main difference between her and her male colleagues. She also never reacts too strongly publicly, which her colleagues do. So there are clearly visible differences that can be ascribed to her gender/sex. But as to equality – every one of us needs to find her own recipe. And since we may live in different environments, it is often a good idea to get to know a few different coping mechanisms to deal with all that shit (I’ve been rude, a shy intellectual, a nice lady, sarcastic, cunning, neutral, explaining and many, many more and I know there were situation where the wrong kind of response did me or could have done me in. Go figure. Even clothes).

            – I also really don’t know about the lack of discussion about her role cementing the inequality. I know that there’s much pretension of “everything’s allright as it is” floating around, especially loved by men whose position would worsen if things changed, but I am not sure Merkel’s role is important … My guess would be it is Ursula von der Leyen who could cause more stir here: after all, she is attractive, visibly fashion-conscious, a mother, and politically very pro women. So maybe she’s supposed to do what Merkel can’t or won’t …

            I don’t know … – I am passionate about the topic myself and rather verbose because my English doesn’t allow me to compress my thoughts better, but – I love discussions like these because they force me to see things from a different perspective (knowing mine already, that’s always great news) 🙂

          • anna louise

            I so agree with you on so many levels. I will go further and say I am actually shocked and dismayed with the perception that a pantsuit somehow means you are an unempowered female giving in to a paternalistic model. I don’t like how Hilary and Angela dress, but it is practical, and the solid colours make them easy to see in a crowd. Why is having an acute fashion sensibility indicative of anything other than just that? Add to that the fact that women in the political sphere, even peripherally as spouses, are often crucified by both pundits and voters for spending time on fashion, particularly if it is costly.

          • Sally

            Okay, I feel like I need to clear this up a bit.

            When issues like this come up I tend to jump right in and theorize because that’s what I am used to in the setting I usually talk about issues like this (let’s say, gender class in university). In these specific settings you get away with and are sought to express stronger theses because that’s how you drive discussions forward. I realize that in a different setting this might come across very extreme and strongly opinionated, which was not my intention at all. I simply like to look at the whole society, the macro level, and therefore I generalize a lot in what I say, but that does not necessarily mean that I have an absolute view on these things personally – I just try to come up with generalized conclusions because I feel like they are more significant in (academic) discussions.

            Concerning the pantsuits: On a sociological level it was absolutely clear to me that pantsuits are a symbol for male power. So I did not think twice about explaining that because I tend to forget that outside academia this might seem a little extreme;)

            This does, however, not mean I think we should stop wearing them and I certainly don’t think anyone who wears pantsuits automatically subjugates themselves to men, hell, i love a good pantsuit or tuxedo on a woman! On the contrary, I think we should wear them and play with these gender biases to overcome them!

            But that requires that we are aware of the biases and are not afraid to address them (wearing pantsuits!) (even though people might roll their eyes or call us feminists;)), which is what I was trying to do.

            Anyways, I just saw the interview with Hillary on CNN, loved her pantsuit and her whole agenda. I really hope she runs as president, not least because I feel like she is someone who would address these issues.

          • Let me just state the obvious 🙂 – your explanation is very important in such a debate. As I said before, I really agree we need to talk about Stuff and I also happen to think the context of (at least stronger) statements should be decribed when things are not clear straight away. As it happens, I have done some feminist literature (in German and in English) while still a young student, but I have also developed a complex of observations from real life about women’s rights and grievances – I am sure I’d need a different kind of argumentation if I still studied literature and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of my real-life statements could be considered sloppy or not thought through – I concoct them while doing the dishes or cleaning the floor :-). So yes, these are/can be separated discourses.

            I still hate it that all women should succumb to fashion observations, whether they care about it or not.
            And trousers should be freed of automatic gender assumptions as well.

  • erin

    I do not think her, or any politicians’ wardrobe should be discussed except as an aside like, “BTW, aren’t her pants fabulous?” while we are discussing her actions which are the only important thing really! After saying that I LOVE the slide with her pantsuits showing a rainbow. It makes me think of her point of view on the world.

  • Hillary and President Rousseff of Brazil, are similar I love them!

  • yes!

    “Does wearing a pantsuit mean that you’re challenging the patriarchy, or perpetuating it?” — exactly

  • Sarah

    Feminine detailed apparel is unacceptable in the policymaking world – femininity is linked to vanity and lack of gravitas. It is unfortunate that a woman who looks ‘effeminate’ is judged before evening opening her mouth.

  • Eeee..have you guys seen http://ladypockets.com/ ? Love it.

    • I thoroughly enjoyed that. Also kinda made me want to go buy a turquoise blazer because why the hell not? 🙂

  • I can’t fault anyone for waking up and thinking to themselves, “You know? Fuck it, I’m wearing a scrunchie today.” I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there.

  • HVA

    All goes back to professional women not being “free” to have it all, but being EXPECTED to have it all (including dope style, rocking bod, legislative expertise, and law degree) – it puts a completely unrealistic standard on women, let alone elected officials. Asking women to be ALL things and not just the RELEVANT things (legislative expertise, law degree, trust of constituents, etc) just means less women in office. Love Vanessa Friedman, but I think that she’s a little off the mark here.

  • HILLARY 2016, Y’ALL. Because excluding the more populous sex from such a job of power and influence is fucking dumb.

    But gender aside, she’s qualified and diplomatic and has a dry sense of humor.

  • mknoun

    her pantsuit in some ways doesn’t challenge the patriarchy, but just being her awesome woman self is, and her pantsuits suit her! It’s not about the trend it’s about who she is and how she wants to reflect herself!

  • Marie

    We don’t talk about the men’s clothes because they are snooze-worthy. Hillary has her own style that speaks for itself, though there is definitely a time and place for discussing her outfits vs. her politics. Furthermore, we are women, we love to talk about these things, and pushing the ladies’ conversation down is giving into a man’s expectations, going AGAINST feminism. I think she should continue rocking whatever it is that she likes, fuck the haters! Rainbow pantsuit forever!

    • Marie again :)

      FURTHERMORE, being fashionable isn’t a fucking crime. She is an intelligent, powerful woman… the fact that she pays attention to what she wears gives us stylish girls a good name. She is not selfish for wanting to look good. To me this is being a good role model for other women who strive to be powerful and also have unique taste.

  • Samantha

    Big ups for using the Hilary Clinton Rainbow. This has been my cover photo on Facebook for six months.

  • At least she wear bright suits……Lol)))



  • Amelia Whitworth

    I think fashion is another “hard choice” Hillary has had to deal with, but I think she has made the right decision all along. I can’t tell you nearly as much about what Michelle Obama has actually done as first lady, as I can about all of the designers she has worn and appearances she has made because of her clothes. When it comes to Hillary, I don’t even notice her clothes, because they don’t really stand out. Living in New York, it is easy to forget that people live, well, other places, where Ross is the best thing you’ve got going on. (Not that I can’t appreciate dressing for less!) and Hillary dresses in a way that is very accessible to her intended audience.

    Since when did anyone really pay attention to what politicians are wearing anyway? In my mind, a report on politicians clothes, is like a report on your Starbucks order, it’s consistent, unchanging, and not too remarkable on either end of the spectrum. 99% of the time it’s a guy in a suit from Men’s Warehouse with a shirt that’s too tight around the neck and a non-threatening tie of a primary color- no matter which party we’re talking about.

    However, I guess I’d rather read about Hillary’s fashion than how she’s going to get over her woman-brain handicap when it comes to dealing with tough scenarios. Thank god she is beyond the age of periods, because there is a 100% chance that it would be mentioned as a potential weakness. Being a female politician is hard……

  • the (un?)social butterfly

    I think Vanessa’s conclusion would have been more interesting if she said “let’s talk about men too” instead of “let’s shift our female wardrobe role models from celebs to politicians”. Only women are not allowed to wear always the same styles, show signs of age, gain weight. Women are always objectified and MUST have “be beautiful” among their priorities. They don’t really have a choice. So truly, shifting from “let’s see how celebs manage to be beautiful” from “let’s see how politicians manage to be beautiful” simply doesn’t change anything. It just implies a sort of condescendence, like “give her a break, she’s powerful, she’s allowed to be uglier”. Like we’re giving PERMISSION to Hillary to get older or dress in pantsuits. I really don’t think that’s anyone’s place…

  • Plus she has the best twitter handle.

  • Kari

    I read this essay, then flipped through the slide show and what the whole thing really did for me was make me want to read her book 🙂

  • hila

    I think the only way for someone to leave their sartorial aesthetic out of politics is to wear the exact same thing, a la Steve Jobs. But it has to be super simple (ie: white shirt, black pants). That way, the surprise is gone, and you won’t ask “what will she wear”. It takes the fashion issue out of it. But then people will knock her for not having any creativity in her style. So lose-lose as you said. You can please some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time.

  • lady698

    I agree that there’s nothing wrong with talking about fashion but the problem is when hard news sites only talk about her clothes and not her politics. Talking about her clothes on a blog like this, for example, seems appropriate.

    • lady 698

      PS Love this article!

  • Melanie

    I really dont think fashion sense is an important skill for a US president, or politician. Busy people should find a look and stick to it, then they dont have to spend any time or brain power thinking about it. We may only have a finite ammount of good decisions in us each day – Many CEO’s, like Steve Jobs & Mark Zukerberg have adopted this philosophy.

    So, yeah, lets just not say anything about her hairdo and hope she doesnt destroy us all when she is in charge.