She Wears the Pant(suit): What the Possibility of Hillary Becoming POTUS Means for Fashion & Feminism

It’s harder to put your feet up on the desk of the Oval Office when you're wearing a skirt.
Publish date:
July 1, 2016
fashion, politics, Michelle Obama, white house, femininity, HIllary Clinton

Keeping my political opinions aside (and to be quite honest, I don’t have that many these days), there’s something I really dig about First Lady Michelle Obama. First off, she’s a woman. I know, I know, but before you shout at me for stating the obvious — hear me out. She’s a woman, and you know it. She’s a girly girl, in every sense of the word. She wears dresses and cardigans and pearls, and sometimes a skirt and blouse. You’ll rarely — if ever — catch Mrs. Obama in a pantsuit. She is the true definition of a “First Lady,” and she looks the part.

Now, enter Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’s presumably spent her entire career trying to make her mark in a man’s world. In 2013, roughly 34% of lawyers were females. Imagine that number when Ms. Clinton began her professional career in 1973? You could safely say the legal profession was (and likely still) is a guy’s club of sorts. Not surprisingly, even as the First Lady of the United States, Clinton’s wardrobe choices were somewhat on the masculine side.

I’m not here to gender stereotype. Nowadays, women wear pants and hey, some men wear skirts. I get it. But for all intents and purposes, First Ladies were typically heralded as fashion icons and the world’s eyes were always on what they wore. That seemed to wane in the days of the Clinton–Bush era, but Mrs. Obama successfully brought it back (even drawing comparisons to Jackie O). The fashion world and general public alike are continuously obsessed with what she is wearing, so with the possibility of Hillary becoming our next POTUS, that made me think — what does this mean for the world of political fashion?

Will this leave a gaping void now that there might be a First Man, and not a First Lady? And, if her clothing choices continue to be so — for lack of a better term — manly, will we simply lose interest in what is being worn by the White House set? “Hillary isn’t running for First Lady,” says Kathleen A. Lawrence, a Woman’s Studies professor at State University of New York College at Cortland in Cortland, N.Y. “Her ability to wear pumps isn't important when weighing global decisions. We have never asked our male presidential candidates to step up their looks.”

In the recent Democratic Party debates, Clinton wore a boxy black blazer, paired with baggy black pants, and a purple top. A subsequent NY Times article even proclaimed that “after 23 years, Clinton finally stops the conversation about her clothes.” But, had she? That very article was, well, about her clothing choices. Conservative anchor-turned-viral sensation Tomi Lahren also recently ended an anti-Clinton rant with the phrase “this isn’t about stopping the Democrats, this is about stopping the pantsuit.” Nary an article was written about Bernie’s blazer, however.

Maybe for Clinton, it’s simply about practicality. “It’s harder to put your feet up on the desk of the Oval Office when you're wearing a skirt. She's a girl scout through and through. Reliable, dependable, and never begging for clear nail polish to dab a run in her stocking. She's the everywoman. It's not that she can't wear pumps and a pencil skirt, she just chooses not to,” explains Lawrence. “Shouldn’t it be enough that she's intelligent and hard working in her chosen field? What does it matter if she can maintain the chicest hair cut or flaunt the latest designer styles?” she asks.

The problem here is, there is a double standard when it comes to women in politics and their clothing choices. We can wish all we want for the conversation to end, but we’ll always still be watching what SHE’S wearing. As long as she’s a she, we’ll care. “The playing field is level enough for Hillary to run for President, but not balanced to the measure that we won't use a tailor's ruler to examine her outfits, while all the guys get a pass,” laments Lawrence.

Let’s face it — in our society, like it or not, appearance does matter. If she becomes our country’s first female president, I’d urge Mrs. Clinton to go traditional. Take a cue from the Queen – Britain’s reigning ruler always has her s**t together. Show the world what a woman who runs the greatest country in the free world looks like, and that she can do it while still maintaining some modicum of femininity. Stop trying so hard to be a part of the boy’s club — stand up and stand out. Put on a skirt once in a while, throw on some heels, and pack flats in your bag for busy days like the rest of us do. I understand she wants to be a beacon for the women’s movement, but most women I know, like to look like WOMEN. We like dresses that show off our shapely legs, and a blouse that shows a peek of cleavage. All of the things that make us different from the guys. Not boxy shapeless pantsuits that make us look like, well, a dude. I just think women can do everything men can do too, but while still looking like women.

Do you?