The Skeletons in Her Closet
The intense scrutiny over Clinton’s clothing is moronic at best, sexist at worst.
By Sofia Rivera, Simons College
A Google search for “Hillary Clinton suits” yields a rainbow of image suggestions, prominently featuring a popular collage of her in pantsuits of every color ROY G through BIV. Suggestions to complete the phrase include: jacket, designer and pants.
In contrast, a search for “Donald Trump suits” turns up results for a variety of lawsuits filed by and against “The Apprentice” producer, many of which are libel suits.
The difference? Even at the word association level, the media and general public consider Trump for his legal actions while they evaluate Clinton based on her wardrobe choices.
Across all professions the same rings true. Actors, for example, are primarily critiqued or esteemed for their performance, while on the red carpet the camera pans to the actress’ face only after the infamous ‘nail cam’ has focused on her hands. When the interviewer does get around to asking her a question, more often than not, it’s something like, “Who are you wearing tonight?”
For Clinton, the answer to this inquiry one day during a speech in New York was: Armani. More specifically, an Armani jacket that retails for over $12,000. Considering her speech had to do with allocating more resources to under-resourced communities, when the news of her designer jacket went public, many people found fault with her sartorial choices.
But the truth is, when it comes to women in the spotlight—and particularly in the position of power that Clinton aspires to—there’s no winning. Like that old quote about Ginger Rogers, Clinton has to do everything the male politicians do except backwards and in heels—and still people feel the need to ask, “But how much did those heels cost?”
If she had worn an outfit from a fast-fashion retailer, there would be backlash over a factory of theirs that operates under horrible conditions. Had she recycled a suit from her time as Secretary of State there would be increased grumbles of “four more years of Obama” and if she threw it way back with a skirt suit from her stint as First Lady, media would demote her to merely Bill Clinton’s wife.
If this seems like an exaggeration, consider Michelle Obama. Though she attended Princeton and Harvard Law and is a mother of two, her toned arms are her most widely appreciated asset. And while she has spearheaded initiatives to promote exercise and healthy eating among youth, the internet most cared the day she got bangs.
Throughout her stay in the White House, Mrs. Obama has displayed a feminine and stylish aesthetic, showcasing designers like Alexander McQueen and Jason Wu. She has looked stunning and spoken eloquently while doing so, and seems to enjoy dressing fashionably— but the problem is whether they care about fashion or not, women don’t get to choose whether or not they are judged on what they wear.
And no one has been in Hillary Clinton’s position before.
As the first woman to win the presumptive Democratic nomination, she’s setting the precedent.
She has to consider not only the fit and style of what she wears, but whether it’s too flashy (as Sarah Palin has been criticized for ) and ensure that it connotes power without coming across as butch— all without spending too little or too much. If she wore dresses and stilettos critics would call her unprofessional, but if she showed up to a debate in a Zoot Suit, the audience would look around for Ashton Kutcher and the hidden cameras.
Why aren’t male politicians forced to walk the same impossible balance beam? Mainly because media doesn’t place significant value on what men wear, and by osmosis neither does the general public. As long as male candidates look presentable, no one pays much attention to what kind of suit they’re wearing.
Trump continuously spews hateful, hyperbolized and untrue comments, is responsible for a string of failed business ventures and has no political experience. So yes, these shortcomings are a hundred times more important than the price tag on his suit. But why does Clinton’s wardrobe seem be perceived as more consequential than her ideas and experience? The double standard is ridiculous at best, sexist at worst.
Sure, Trump has been mocked for his appearance, from his orange-hued skin to his gravity-defying hair, but not nearly as much for what he wears as Clinton. She has to analyze her wardrobe tirelessly in an effort to be as uncontroversial and likable as possible—something historically difficult for her—while Trump seems to give little thought to his appearance and has still been taken seriously enough to win the Republican nomination. Maybe it is too grand a hypothetical, but if Trump were a woman, there is no way she would have secured the respect and following he has. Because her appearance would detract from her ideas, and the ideas are already so bad.
Maybe one day in the future presidential elections will look more like an episode of “The Voice,” where voters are forced to listen to the actual goals, policies and experience of each candidate without being distracted by what he or she wears. Ponytails will be equated with power just as much as buzz cuts, and colorful pantsuits just as much as neckties. For now, Clinton’s pantsuits will continue to serve as her armor and her kitten heels as combat boots as she fends herself against critique of her aesthetic.
Some might say Clinton incited the sartorial debate with her inaugural Instagram picture, posted just over a year ago: a rack of suits in red, white and blue captioned: “Hard choices.” But they’d be missing the point.
To critics who seem to be obsessed with what she wears, Clinton implies she has bigger fish to fry. Like say, how to run for president.