The old saying goes: first impressions are everything. What we wear speaks volumes, a silent communication indicating our character. Public figures are continually scrutinized for their appearances, especially women involved in politics. Female politicians have to work tirelessly to demand respect from their male counterparts and the general public.
Specific clothing has defined all of the female political fights of the past century. Beginning with suffragette green and purple sashes, women have used their clothing to clarify their political fights. A set uniform not only united these women but creates a symbol to stand with. Suffragettes dressed in clothes that refused to fit the stereotype of a strong-minded woman. This first wave of feminism sparked a movement that fought for equality and respect. Those individuals paved the way for current women to vote in elections, which in today’s political landscape is even more pressing.
Today’s political fashions have evolved around the power suit. Tailored to perfection, these vestments symbolize strength and respect. They determine the mood of an interaction or provide a boost of confidence for the people wearing them.
According to The New York Times, “there is no question that fashion has been used as a tool to dismiss women; to associate them with frivolity rather than serious subjects—the superficial rather than the stuff of governance.” Female politics are continuously bombarded with comments about their appearance, especially their clothing choices. Hillary Clinton garnered much attention for her choice in pantsuits and turned her critic comments into a “running joke” throughout her campaign.
Women continually use certain items of clothing or accessories to inspire change. The work of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm led the second wave of feminism. These women disregarded the social constructions placed upon women during the 1960s and 1970s. They donned clothing that celebrated the freedom of femininity. Instead of being the ideal women, they were imperfectly perfect by celebrating their differences. Shirley Chisolm, as the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, specifically paved the way for current vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
As a runner for the vice presidency, Harris garners much judgment and scrutiny, not to mention the prejudice she already encounters as a woman of color. Kamala Harris donned a black tailored suit, her amour so to speak, last Wednesday as she ferociously debated Vice President Pence. With millions of Americans watching from home, her dress choices evoked trust and dignity. She exuded sensibility and fearlessness as she demanded her male peer not interrupt her as she spoke. This leads me to the question, why do we care so much about what women in politics wear, and why are their clothing choices a measure of their success?
The New York Times reports, “the question facing many candidates, in dress as in message, is how much of that should be about gender, and how you get beyond the stereotype. The female political candidate’s uniform developed largely as a feminized version of the men’s suit, chosen to demonstrate that women could fit into what was a male-dominated world.”
What women wear is impactful and should be used as a weapon. Female politicians have the opportunity to use their style choices as a signature. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg's infamous dissent collars, specific clothing choices speak for themselves. Instead of critiquing every part of a female politician’s wardrobe, let us instead celebrate their bold decisions. They are not only dressing for success, they are dressing to win. Female politicians are using their clothing to send messages and disrupt the status quo.
The fight for gender equality has been and continues to be, a long-waged war. Women have worn multiple variations of armor, whether it be white dresses adorned with a green and purple sash, varying natural hairstyles behind dark glasses, tailored pantsuits or pink kitten-eared hats. Women have made specific fashion choices to inspire a shift in gender impartiality. What women wear matters. We project our beauty and confidence through our fashion choices, thus motivating the equality we yearn to see.
This is the opinion of Caroline Thoms, a sophomore English major from Chicago. Email comments to email@example.com. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.