I’m interested in fashion, primarily as an abstract thing. Most of the clothes I really like aren’t designed for bodies like mine, and high fashion doesn’t really include people who dress like me or share my taste. But I love textiles, I love looking at clothes, I love seeing what’s in fashion, I read fashion week reports, I try to keep up with designers I like. I am by no means a fashion expert or someone to be relied upon when it comes to the latest fashion news; it’s just an idle interest of mine, one of the few things I do just for fun.
With a note of seriousness to it, because fashion is so culturally loaded. There’s so much to explore when it comes to talking about how we relate to fashion culturally and socially, how fraught with meaning clothes can become. What people can afford, how they wear it, who wears what, these are all things that intrigue me, as a general rule; I like talking about expressions of femme culture through clothing, for example, or judgments cast upon plain dressing women who find it hard to be accepted in society and the workplace because they stress ‘strangely’ by social standards.
But I’m actually not that interested in what women politicians are wearing. It’s one of the few situations in which fashion is just not that intriguing to me. I’m aware that women in politics in general are forced to walk a very fine line when it comes to dressing, which is in and of itself worth talking about: hemlines need to be just so, colours must be carefully chosen, designers must be domestic to avoid accusations of supporting foreigners. The uniform should be conservative, but not devoid of personality.
From event to event, though, I’m just not that interested. I don’t need to see the breakdown of every component of a woman politician’s outfit on the major media, especially when it’s all they talk about. Not what she said at the event, who she met with, and what she did there, just the colour of her dress and who the designer was, with comments on the daring asymmetrical hemline or the chandelier earrings that might have been a tad much, or maybe the tastefully ‘classic’ strand of pearls she wore to offset her basic, conservative, smart dress suit.
That goes for people like the First Lady too; she is, in many ways, a politician, part of a powerful political family. She’s involved in political initiatives and plays a key role in decisionmaking in this country. It disturbs me to see her reduced to a clotheshorse by the media, and it distresses me to think of young women reading this kind of coverage and taking this messaging away, that what matters about Michelle Obama is her hair and her clothes, not who she is, what she does, what she talks about, how she interacts with her community.
The insistence on focusing on clothing above all else is yet another reminder that women in politics are suspect, to be viewed dubiously, not completely on the level. We very rarely hear reports on what men are wearing and when we do it’s because it’s outlandish, unusual, or outstandingly worth commentary; thus, a politician who suits up in overalls to inspect a factory gets some press for dressing down, just as his compatriot gets the third degree for forgetting to put his US flag pin on before attending an event. (Seriously, do politicians have reminders in their phones or something to make sure they don’t take a step without those things?)
It reduces women to lesser, unimportant beings in the world of politics. ‘Sure,’ such reports imply about their subjects. ‘It’s cute and all that you want to play politics, but you need to be reminded that you should be in the sandbox with your dollies.’
It’s not just that women’s fashion is something of acute and meticulous detail in the media, but the way in which it’s dissected. Men’s fashion decisions, again, are not carefully teased apart to read layers of meaning into them; they’re just clothes, so unremarkable that they don’t even merit comment, honestly. But what women wear, no matter what it is, how it’s worn, who designed it, what the circumstances are, if they’re in politics, it becomes fodder for a million value judgments and comments on their worth, contributions for society, and ability to serve in government.
So I want the media to stop reporting on what women in politics are wearing. Because, honestly, who cares? Don’t answer that question, it’s rhetorical, I realise there are a lot of people who genuinely do care, for a variety of reasons, and truth be told I’m one of them too, in an abstract sense, because I like talking about the cultural implications of fashion. But I’m tired of hearing stories about women politicians leading with descriptions of their clothes, figure, and how they look, rather than who they are, and I’m tired of seeing information about what women in politics are actually doing sandwiched into the very end of an article, if it’s provided at all.
The newsworthy information isn’t that a lady is daring to be a politician, but that something political is happening, and I want to hear more about that, please, and less about the politician’s hat, or necklace, or forbidden French scarf, for the love of eggplants.