Ever since last Monday’s presidential debate, I’ve been struggling with how to say this. It’s a controversial statement, and no one in my circle wants to touch it. But I can’t keep it in anymore.
Hillary Clinton looked great in that red suit.
I know. I just complimented a woman running for the highest office in the U.S. on her choice of outfit. The only way I could have made that worse is if I started by saying, “I’m not a sexist, but…”
For the record, I’m not a pantsuit enthusiast, but Clinton has carved out her sartorial niche. Since 2007, Mrs. Clinton has been wearing pantsuits by Susanna Beverly Hills (I fact checked it, because I’m a professional, y’all), but maybe now that she has made history as the first woman to participate in a bipartisan presidential debate, the runways at Fashion Week will be full of avante garde ensembles that could double as mother-of-the-bride outfits.
One of Clinton’s many uphill battles as a woman competing in a male dominated field is that men have a dress code—their biggest decision is their tie: power red or reassuring blue. Women have a dress code, too, but it’s a subliminal one, unspoken and byzantine in its sociological complexity.
Some historical perspective: the first televised presidential debate was between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960. (Read more here.) Kennedy appeared well-groomed and confident, and Nixon looked rather unkempt and haggard. (Nixon was recovering from a knee injury.) Radio listeners considered Nixon’s answers more substantive, and television viewers thought Kennedy had the edge.
Now we describe candidates looking “presidential,” meaning “composed and confident,” but also not-so-secretly meaning, “well-groomed, well-tailored, and looking strong and healthy.” That is to say “attractive” in a Darwinian “I want that person taking care of my pack” sort of way.
It’s not a nice fact, but it’s a fact. FDR knew this and took great pains to never be photographed in his wheelchair.
Going back to fashion, and skipping the minefield that is hair, makeup, and whether a woman should smile more…
The traditional man’s business suit is a symbol of authority and success, whereas a woman’s pantsuit is often ridiculed. Skirts and dresses are dodgy, because the hemline has to fall in the magical spot between slutty and frumpy. And lets face it, the more gravitas the jacket, the more it gives you flashbacks to your high school principal (usually not a good thing).
So, taking all that into account, I feel like I need to trade in my Feminist card when I point out that Clinton looked great in that outfit during the debate. It played well on camera, the color was super flattering, which made her look healthy, and of course, red is a power color. It was a great tactical choice.
Incidentally, a day or two before the debate, Clinton made fun of Trump’s signature red power tie. Not, I think, coincidentally, he wore a blue tie…leaving the power-red up for grabs. Think about that for a minute.
I have never talked politics on this blog, but the fact is this political season is the most infuriating, perplexing, embarrassing (as an American), troubling… and ANTHROPOLOGICALLY FACINATING one I can remember. I’m not here to campaign for anyone—though I’m not going to hide my bias against Trump.
If you’ve made up your mind for one of the two main party candidates, nothing I say is likely to change your mind.
But if you’re on the fence over whether it’s worth it to vote, IT IS. If you want to not vote for either Trump or Clinton, you can still contribute to the process in seriously meaningful way by casting your vote for the open congressional seats, and in your state and local governments.