Tag Archives: Fashion

Is the Pantsuit Driving Women…Red?

In response to recent polls showing that female voters may favor Republicans in today’s election, the New York Times features a discussion about why women’s allegiance might be shifting. Most of the discussion is so hair-splittingly safe that the “why” is wholly unaddressed, but one brave commenter actually ventures a guess: There are simply more Republican women on the ballot.

This is a perfectly reasonable explanation (though it suggests that women care more about anatomy than ability). This year, the Republicans have nominated a record number of female candidates and Sarah Palin’s motley crew has gained enormous national attention.

But I’m not sure that sheer numbers could really change our stripes.

I think this actually goes much deeper, to a cultural shift that the Republicans have picked up on while the Democrats refuse to get on board.

So what is this shift all about?

Recently, I’ve seen something in conservative female candidates that I’ve never seen in politics before: femininity.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times featured an article on conservative fashion, including a slide show that highlights the stark difference between the political parties’ styles. Republican women are stepping out in hip-hugging skirts, ruffly blouses, and stylish jackets, while Democratic women are still rocking the boxy pantsuit.

You might think that style choices shouldn’t matter. But whatever your politics, they matter. And this time, I think they should.

I’m reminded of Anna Wintour’s famously scathing letter when Hillary Clinton refused to appear in Vogue during the 2008 election for fear of appearing “too feminine.” Ms. Wintour, never one to mess with, wrote:

“The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying…I do think Americans have moved on from the power-suit mentality, which served as a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms filled with men. Political campaigns that do not recognize this are making a serious misjudgment.”

That misjudgment goes beyond our style choices and touches on a larger issue that those noxious pantsuits have come to represent.

Femininity, as a whole, has long suffered our collective disrespect. Feminine women are dismissed. Feminine men are scorned. Despite all our strides toward equality, femininity is still distinctly lesser. As a culture, we seem to be under the disturbingly mistaken impression that femininity cannot coexist with intelligence, strength, and power.

It’s time for that to change.

Thankfully, I think it is changing. Slowly, I see my generation starting to respect traditionally feminine traits, and to embody (or hope for) a world where girlie girls can debate economics and heroic hunks can cry when they read Jane Eyre.

So come on, Dems. Shred those pastel pantsuits. This train is leaving, with or without you. It’s time to get on board.


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Double Cliqued: W’s Guide to Stereotypes

Last weekend, I was flipping through W Magazine when I stumbled on a back-to-school style guide that deserves detention. The line-up shows five girls, mostly pretty classic high school staples: the party animal, the valedictorian, the prepster.

But then, at each end, we have our outcasts.

First, let’s take the curvy girl, far left. What did they choose to call their voluptuous vixen with “plenty of attitude”? Read it and weep: This buxom broad is “The Girl Who Eats Her Feelings.”

Principal’s office. Now.

This title invokes the girl who eats a box of cookies one night when she feels lonely or downs a whole container of Betty Crocker rainbow chip frosting while crying over a breakup (yes, I’ve been there too). In a word, she over-indulges.

Which got me thinking…are women “allowed” to do that?

I have a 1950s magazine article posted on my fridge that teaches girls how to say no. More specifically, how to say no to chocolate cake, cigarettes, kisses, hands wandering “out-of-bounds,” laziness, chatty phone calls, and a cute red coat instead of a practical tweed coat–basically, to all of life’s little indulgences.

W Magazine’s biting nickname expresses the same expectation: women should show restraint.

But we walk a fine line because the flipside is just as demonized.

Enter the skinny girl, at the opposite end of our line-up. She got a pretty harsh report card too: This sandal-clad, ethnic-knit-loving hippie child is “The Virgin Suicide.”

This girl is all restraint. Her muffins are vegan and gluten-free (which, Babycakes aside, sucks all the joy out of muffins); she’s totally untouched by either sex; even her hair is “studiously messy.”

But her unclogged arteries and intact hymen don’t seem to work out so well for her. She’s the “virgin suicide;” the one whose life is apparently not worth living—that’s harsh! While there’s disgust for the curvy girl, there’s bitterness, with a hint of jealousy, for the skinny girl.

That’s a tough spot to be in, always trying to walk the perfect line that’s just restrained enough to be acceptable but not too limiting.

But I’m hopeful that W might be out of touch with its audience.

I notice myself and my friends starting to resist having our bodies and our behavior micro-managed. Starting to say yes to hooking up on our terms, treating ourselves to chocolate cake, and buying that cute red coat. Starting to ask which limits we want to set in our own lives based on what feels right for us, not what others think is “good for us.”

Trust us. We’ll find our way.


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