Sunday, April 11, 2004

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Clothes Make The (Wo)man:

As we all know, one’s clothing choices signal many different things and can be used for or against us in many different ways. Like it or not, what we chose to cover our bodies with, holds far more significance than merely rating a ‘well dressed’ nod of approval by fashion insiders, or qualifying us for ‘best dressed’ lists.

Particularly so for those who are in the public eye (whether they be high profile celebrities- actors, socialites, or big name felons standing trial), who constantly find themselves being scrutinized and ‘graded’ vis a vis their fashion statements (or lack thereof) on a constant basis. And since we are in an election year, this fact of life is most obvious within the political arena.

Last week’s appearance of President Bush’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice before the commission investigating the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks, was yet another indication of how public figures are held under a microscope, and the way in which they present themselves (their demeanor, grooming, and clothing) is an entire package and fodder for discussion. Regardless of one’s political views, it is undeniable that Ms. Rice is bright, able, talented, articulate, and a formidable and highly regarded player in the current administration. She is also attractive, confidant, always flawlessly groomed, and has deemed the suit (with knee length skirt) as her uniform of choice for public appearances. No surprise there- the suit has traditionally been seen as the one indispensable wardrobe staple that is meant to signal power, authority, intelligence, empowering woman and putting them on the same playing field as the guys.

I never expect to see Ms. Rice (or other women political figures) wearing fashion forward or edgy versions- like the ones we routinely see on runways. Naturally, hers are far more commercial, mundane, and well, ordinary. But that’s okay. My main criticism (and I cringe) is when I see her or her cronies, in Chanel copies (you know the drill: gold buttons, braiding, piping, and other tricky details that don’t cut the mustard when they are not the real deal and perfectly done).

For the big event on Thursday morning, Ms. Rice wisely stayed away from the aforementioned versions, and settled on a neutral, plain, (bland?) taupe, shawl collared form fitting (but not too much so) jacket worn with a matching skirt, white silk top beneath, and accessorized only with small, tasteful, and discreet gold clip- on earrings, a slim gold necklace, and of course, the ubiquitous American flag pin affixed to her lapel.

This ‘look’ was subsequently talked about ad nauseum and was even the subject of an article in the first section of the New York Times on the following day. In Alessandra Stanley’s column, Friday, April 9th (‘TV Watch- Testimony Provides Breath of Racial Reality for TV’), the writer observed, “There was absolutely nothing in Condoleezza Rice’s neutral-toned suit, primly folded hands or calm demeanor to draw attention to her sex or race.”

Yes, the fact that she is decidedly and unapologetically “neuter” and typically, non (or shall I say, a- sexual) in appearance, certainly helps her cause and contributes to her overall acceptance, high approval rating, and credibility. Again, this is nothing new- most women who reach a certain pinnacle in their high profile careers, know how to play the game, and they know that a certain androgyny goes a long way. Thanks to all the no- nonsense, classic, menswear inspired, cuffed trousers, jackets, and tailored coats, rendered in neutral, un-gimmicky colors, you too can reap the career benefits. Go for it!

Posted by Marilyn Kirschner

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