What’s the point of judicial power if you don’t have Girl Power?

Here’s the thing about Robin Givhan, the WaPo‘s fashion journalist. She frequently writes about fashion in contexts that should make for fascinating readings: the images portrayed by women in power, and how their stylistic choices reflect (or, often, deflect) our expectations of femininity. Sounds right up our alley, no? But here’s the other thing about Givhan: she’s bad at it. To be more precise (and more fair), she’s not bad at writing, and she’s not bad at fashion; she’s just bad at feminism. Sure, I don’t need all reporters in the world to be feminist (but, oh, what a world that would be!), but if your beat consists of analyzing fashion and gender, and you’re not doing it through a feminist lens, you may as well work for Cosmo.

Givhan made herself infamous in the feminist blogosphere by dedicating an entire article to Hillary Clinton’s cleavage and how “unnerving” it supposedly was, during campaign season, natch. (Choice quote: The cleavage, however, is an exceptional kind of flourish. After all, it’s not a matter of what she’s wearing but rather what’s being revealed. It’s tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!) Now she’s weighing in on Sonia Sotomayor, claiming that for her hearings, Sotomayor chose to eschew femininity altogether. In maddening but typical fashion, she fails to even remotely discuss why Sotomayor might make such a choice, instead dissing her for being stuck in the ’80s — which is so hot right now, unless you’re a lady judge, of course. (See Jezebel for a great comparison of Sotomayor’s look to the “1980s lady power broker” that Givhan claims she’s channeling. Maybe Givhan isn’t that good at fashion after all.)

Whether or not you agree with Givhan’s premise that Sotomayor “embraced that period in fashion when femininity had no place in the executive suite” (for the record, I don’t), you’d think Givhan might at least mention the fact that Sotomayor’s status as a Vagina American has actually been a point of contention and debate in the past few weeks. Givhan sidles up to a gender-based analysis, but then she gets distracted by shiny things or something and doesn’t follow through:

In recent years, it’s been men in Sotomayor’s position, with their hands raised as they promise to tell the truth. In matters of aesthetics they’ve had it easy. They needed only to wear a tidy dark suit with an unstained tie and a crisp dress shirt. A fresh haircut was always a wise move. Meeting these meager requirements has sometimes been a struggle. Still, both Samuel Alito and John Roberts were mostly unremarkable when they appeared before the Judiciary Committee.

Sonia Sotomayor didn’t try to imitate the boys by assembling androgynous ensembles. That would not have gone over at all. Too dark a palette or too sleek a silhouette would have looked too urbane. Too unapproachable. Too minimal. Too suspiciously New York liberal.

Sotomayor avoided wearing clothes so bland that they faded into the background and left her looking dowdy and retiring and like she was trying to remake herself into something she is not. Based on her résumé and her life story, “flat” and “dull” are not adjectives that could accurately be applied to the “wise Latina.” So she was not a blur in beige.

Gosh, why do you think men wouldn’t bother doing more than getting a haircut and a dry cleaning before appearing before the Senate (and the nation)? It’s almost like they are evaluated on their accomplishments and qualifications instead of on their color palettes. I guess they’re just lucky!

I can’t believe that Givhan has the nerve to refer to the “wise Latina” comment — which has been widely mocked by white men (who, of course, are Neutral Humans) as a sign of being uppity — in the context of how neutral Sotomayor decided to dress, without even a hint of irony. It’s as though she has no idea that Sotomayor might have a vested interest in appearing nonthreatening to the white men who have been trying to get her to admit she’s some kind of pity nominee. Givhan writes that Sotomayor’s fashion projects the following statement: “I am palatable. I am familiar. And in addition to my ethnicity, I also know how to leave my gender at the door.” AND THEN THE ARTICLE ENDS. Because, I guess, there’s nothing interesting to say about being required to “leave” your ethnicity and gender at the door to the Supreme Court.

For a journalist who writes about fashion in politics, Givhan seems to miss the main point of her own work: fashion is political. Can you imagine the uproar if Sotomayor, a fat (or at least not thin)*, middle-aged Latina, actually showed up at the confirmation hearings in the sheath dresses and bare legs** that Givhan recommends? The powers that be in fashion may have announced that “Strength, femininity and fashion can coexist in the boardroom as well as on Capitol Hill,” but I’m pretty sure that these guys didn’t get the fucking memo.

*ETA: I am actually not sure at all if Sotomayor is fat or “Hollywood fat,” but her body shape is still not one we would see in a lot of the fashion magazines that apparently should dictate her every move.

**IIRC, the Bush White House required women to wear pantyhose to work (though I can’t find a link for that at the moment).

76 thoughts on “What’s the point of judicial power if you don’t have Girl Power?

  1. I refuse to read Givhan’s articles on WaPo. Although she has experience with and an understanding of the fashion houses, she is a horrible, amateurish writer. I can’t stand her pretension: “Too dark a palette or too sleek a silhouette would have looked too urbane. . She makes me want to tear out tuffs of my hair.

  2. Can you imagine the uproar if Sotomayor, a fat (or at least not thin), middle-aged Latina, actually showed up at the confirmation hearings in the sheath dresses and bare legs* that Givhan recommends?

    This is a totally tangential point, but I’ve noticed this bizarre tug-of-war between self-appointed fashion experts and women talking about dress for conservative industries about whether women should wear pantyhose. “But they’re so dowdy!” “But bare legs are too casual and sexy!” “But you look like you’re from the ’80s!” It’s such a strange, minor thing, but I guess it’s just yet another indicator about how women can never fucking win.

  3. Can you imagine the uproar if Sotomayor, a fat (or at least not thin), middle-aged Latina

    Although she might self-identify as “fat” (I don’t know), and people certainly called her “fat” based on one publicity photo, from the current footage I would certainly not be at all likely to identify her as “fat”. “Average” perhaps, but not “fat”. Look at the footage–you don’t identify as “fat”, IIRC, and I think she’s of very similar dimensions to yours, IIRC your photos correctly.

    I say this not to be a jerk, but just to point out that the public rhetoric of Sotomayor’s detractors wasn’t accurate.

    And the whole thing is ridiculous. She wore a business suit to a meeting of other people wearing business suits. What was she supposed to wear? A tiara and a tutu? Robin Givhans’s writing is wilfully foolish.

  4. WTF is this chick smoking? That blue blazer she wore is CUTE.

    I get so frustrated on a DAILY basis about how much harder it is for me to dress myself fashionably than it is my male colleagues. They show up in neutral slacks and a nice button down every single day and are totally fine. I show up in neutral slacks and a nice button down every single day and I feel like I am a BIG SLACKER in the fashion department.

    The simple fact is is that women don’t have an “easy” button like men do. There is no female version of the suit. No classic outfit that looks good on 90% of us and is instantly professional/nice.

    Sotomayor did a great job of looking professional without making fashion a big issue, and yet, IT IS STILL A FUCKING ISSUE.

    I am so stabby today. If I encounter any further stupidity this afternoon I will not be held accountable for my actions.

  5. I say this not to be a jerk, but just to point out that the public rhetoric of Sotomayor’s detractors wasn’t accurate.

    Right, I wrote “fat” and then had to do a mental reality check. It’s not at all clear to me whether she would qualify as fat, inbetweenie, or just not that thin. And, of course, that would also affect her ability to find “proper” professional attire.

  6. WTF is this chick smoking? That blue blazer she wore is CUTE.

    I know! I actually thought her jackets were great and rather bold. But I guess that makes me some kind of square.

  7. I know! I actually thought her jackets were great and rather bold. But I guess that makes me some kind of square.

    Apparently. I mean, dressing like you’d like a job is just like soooooo 1980s.

  8. The “pantyhose are so dowdy and 80s” thing really bothers me. If fashion norms “require” you to bare your skin, then the skin and the condition of your legs is a fashion statement in itself. Women whose bodies vary from the ideal are given nowhere to hide. Of course the fashion industry does this all the time with all parts of the body, making women hate themselves because they don’t look hawt in excessively revealing styles – but the pantyhose thing especially bothers me because it seems to have become a norm in professional circles, where one normally wouldn’t have to worry about how one looks in a skimpy summer dress or such. I am a naturally modest person and I don’t appreciate having to bare my skin to prove that I am “with it.” In a professional environment it is especially poisonous.

    If Sotomayor had shown up in a sheath dress and bare legs, she would have been a laughingstock, because her average-build, middle-aged body isn’t made for that kind of thing, at least not according to contemporary norms. It might be nice to live in a society where average women could reveal the precise outlines of their bodies, and the surface of their unadorned skin, without social consequences – but we don’t. Surely Robin Givhan realizes this. I read “leaving your gender at the door” as “if you have the kind of physique that benefits from a little discretion in public display, you aren’t a real woman, and might as well go home.”

    It’s a pretty nice recipe for keeping women out of power, because by the time you get to that stage of your career, you’re no longer young enough to qualify for the ideal.

  9. Givhan also thinks men shouldn’t bother with neckties for the office. Yeah, that’ll work.

    I read her columns knowing that they will make me crazy, because it’s yet another dose of “You should care about the things that are important to me, and it you don’t, it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with you.”

    As someone without anything other than a theoretical interest in fashion (and thinness, and fame, and all sorts of things), it hacks me off. I’m not telling her how to spend her time and energy.

  10. Oh, and on the subject of policing of professional women’s dress, anyone interested should check out Corporette. Everytime I read it I’m stunned as the extent to which professional women are trained to nitpick each other’s clothing under the guise of “not serious enough” or “too sexy” and a million other things. Recent discussions include things like “Should you wear your collar inside or outside of your suit jacket?” and the comments always elicit a flurry of things like “Inside the jacket? Too mannish!” “Outside the jacket? Too matronly!” It’s really stunning.

  11. Is it just me or is everyone in the fashion industry confusing feminine with sexy? One does not need to look fuckable to be feminine, and sexy is simply not an appropiate look for a senator on the job (after office is a whole different matter). Why the hell should she show skin and wear fitted jackets? She looks very nice, professional and clean cut, just like a senator should, she is not and clearly has no desire to be a fashion icon. And feminine? Well, she is a woman, and she’s clearly wearing women’s clothing, so that’s feminine enough for me. In fact, I hate this trend that says every woman in the public eye should be a fashionista.

    I wonder what her idea of the perfect fashionable and feminine power outfit is. I imagine it’s something along the lines of Dr. Cuddy in House…

  12. SM, I get you. And I agree that Robin Givhan would have been likely to body-police anyone who wasn’t “model-thin” and chose to wear a sheath dress and bare legs. Look at how people body-police Michelle Obama, a very slender, fit woman, for same.

    But I think that describing anyone who isn’t “model-thin” as “fat” ourselves is not necessarily ideal. And I was surprised by how different Sotomayor looked on the TV as compared to how she looked in that ubiquitous publicity photo. Perhaps that photo made her look larger than she is, or perhaps she’s lost some weight because of her current stressful/busy schedule, I don’t know.

    As for the “wearing a sheath dress with bare legs”–I’m 44 and fat and I do it all the time. Fuck the haters. But I wouldn’t do it to a Congressional hearing, because that’s not the most professional attire in that setting. Robin Givhan seems somehow not to get that.

  13. Oh, the WaPo ladies have outdone themselves today.

    Speaking as a sorority girl myself, I’m wondering if it’s slipped their minds that at this point we’re talking about prospective Presidential Appointees, not freshie pledgettes.

    http://jezebel.com/5318648/critique-of-sotomayors-fashion-choices-falls-flat

    http://jezebel.com/5318693/white-house-turns-to-head-off-more-regina-benjamin-rumors

    http://jezebel.com/5315443/female-nominees-continue-to-face-scrutiny-over-their-size-weight

  14. I would just like to point out that the database of federal judges from which Lindsey Graham drew anonymous comments about Sotomayor’s temperament contains similar comments about other judges. These include several judges who expect female lawyers to wear dark skirt suits and stockings while in court, and one who remarked on a lawyer’s “inappropriately casual” attire from the federal bench. That lawyer was a man wearing a brown suit, rather than black, gray, or nave. The legal profession tends to be extremely conservative. I am in my mid twenties and from Southern California, and I would never show up to court without stockings on. Givhan should check out the culture she’s commenting on before she begins to write.

  15. As for the “wearing a sheath dress with bare legs”–I’m 44 and fat and I do it all the time. Fuck the haters. But I wouldn’t do it to a Congressional hearing, because that’s not the most professional attire in that setting. Robin Givhan seems somehow not to get that.

    Yeah, exactly. I am not a fan of what qualifies as “professional” clothing for women, but at the same time, I’m wary enough of culture-wide sexism to wear it anyway for a job interview. I hope Sotomayor wears whatever the hell she wants on her off time, but I can’t blame her for wearing suits to Capitol Hill.

  16. Sotomayor dressed appropriately and looked comfortable (with her status/power and her body) and highly competent. Her dress was typical of a female attorney. Why is it expected she dress in the latest fashion? Appropriate is good enough for many of us.

    Not every woman is a fashion plate or wants to be one. Nor should we expect this of women in power. Of course that kind of talk is bad for Robin Givhan and bad for the fashion and beauty industries.

    Does Robin Givhan even know that she will spend the majority of her career life in a black robe anyway?

  17. Why is it expected she dress in the latest fashion? Appropriate is good enough for many of us.

    The thing that’s so frustrating is that appropriate is probably better for someone, especially someone who people already find threatening (because she’s a woman, because she’s Latina, etc.), trying to land a Supreme Court spot. Look how much trouble the Senate Doodz are already having over the fact that she’s not a white man — dressing “sexy” or “fashion forward” wouldn’t necessarily have made it better and might have made it much worse (though no doubt the media would have attacked her either way). It’s not just that she’s failing to be a fashion plate, it’s that she’s actually choosing to dress in a way that might — gasp! — increase the chances of her getting the job she wants. I guess professionalism, like neutrality, is something only white men can have.

    I am not a fan of what qualifies as “professional” clothing for women, but at the same time, I’m wary enough of culture-wide sexism to wear it anyway for a job interview.

    This is more or less what I was saying to Miss Conduct about her Today Show outfit and the need to cover your shoulders to project authority. Yes, our idea of what looks professional and authoritative on a woman is highly constrictive and largely based on what looks professional and authoritative on a man. We’re all trying to overthrow the patriarchy here. In the meantime, though, that’s our idea of what looks appropriate, and you can either exploit that or… not be considered to look appropriate. Would it be sexist for someone to object? Probably, but are you willing to lose your Supreme Court nomination over it?

  18. But I think that describing anyone who isn’t “model-thin” as “fat” ourselves is not necessarily ideal.

    Perhaps, but the other issue here is that Sotomayor has taken shitloads of criticism for being “fat” — lots of people making the argument that if she “can’t take care of her body,” we shouldn’t trust her on the court. There is a widespread perception that her body is more than merely “average-sized,” even if that description would be more accurate — and that’s absolutely relevant to a discussion of how “feminine” she appears and what kind of clothing she chooses.

  19. Actually, I think she looks somewhat trendy. Not, like, fashion editor trendy, but politics trendy. That’s what women involved with politics have been wearing this year.

  20. And we will break through the glass ceiling while flipping out on each others clothing how? Someone presenting themselves as a feminist and critiquing powerful women’s clothing in a derogatory way is disturbing. And I do think that I read this correctly.

    I had a manager who abused me biased on professional jealousy. Naturally, he made inappropriate references biased on gender as well. The women at the company assumed that this was biased on my being attractive and saw nothing wrong with my being abused for that reason. Pop culture like this perpetuates those additudes!

  21. I’m so tired of hearing about how our female politicians dress. If I see one more article about Michelle Obama’s clothing, for instance, I think I will scream. Ditto Hillary, Sotomayor, Palin, even Nancy Pelosi. I don’t care what they wear, I care about what they do. Plenty of women, myself included, are totally fine with utilitarian, comfortable and “appropriate” clothing. Guess what, I can still do my job, take care of my family, have a relationship, go out in public and everything else.

  22. Someone presenting themselves as a feminist and critiquing powerful women’s clothing in a derogatory way is disturbing.

    I’m not sure Givhan actually presents herself as a feminist — I fucking well hope not — but that doesn’t really make her any less retrograde.

  23. Givhan seems to have some funny idea about what job Sotomayor is interviewing for: it’s not fashion icon or model. She has no responsibility whatsoever to dress in a manner other than serious professional, which is what she did. And if Givhan doesn’t like it, she’s just going to have to learn to live with her disappointment.

    Veering slightly off topic, this is one of the reasons I have really started to dislike TV makeover shows. What many of the stylists think is appropriate professional wear wouldn’t go over well at all in about 90% of the places I’ve worked. Yes, the outfits look attractive. But attractive is not always the goal.

  24. I just wanted to say, nope, not fat, as a person who knows Sonia IRL. Camera adds xx lbs/can’t really accurately asses how much someone weighs by looking at them anyway/whatever the deal is, fact is that she is easily in the range of “straight” sizes.

    Also, she totally has style and sartorial flair, she just chose to express it in a way that was appropriate to the situation. The woman has several closets full of clothes, sheesh.

  25. I tuned into the hearings on and off. There’s only so much blatant sexism that a thinking woman can take. During those on periods, I had two thoughts: 1) Boys, you’re really grasping at straws with that wise Latina remark. Why don’t you just admit she’s done more in her life than you have and you have no reason not to support her. 2) Man those are some non-conservative colors. This woman fucking rocks because if I’d been there I would have looked like a sweaty penguin in pantyhose and Naturalizers.

    The issues brought up here are one of the reasons why I stopped watching ‘What Not to Wear’ because it perpetuates this idea that its okay to critique women’s bodies and then discipline them for their own good. It’s even worse that family members ambush these women on national television.

    The other part that resonated with me was Graham’s ‘are you a bitch when you’re PMSing’ line of questioning. It didn’t phase Sotomayor, I’m sure. But its clear that Graham wanted to unnerve her with the idea that maybe some of her colleagues don’t like her. It made me think of the student evaluations at the end where women professors get comments like ‘teacher has bad bedside manner’ and ‘teacher is too brusque’. On one hand you know these are little pischers who you won’t even remember 10 years from now. On the other hand it hurts to know that there are people who don’t like you and that their criticisms would never be written about a male professor.

  26. @tropical chrome: I HATE makeover shows, especially “What Not to Wear” where your friends or coworkers NOMINATE you for the upgrade. I would make over my friend list instead.

    I like my friends who dress to match their personalities. Love, love their individuality. Like my hippie friend who still wears tiedye and long, flowing skirts or my fat friends who eschew the fashion rules about wearing loud prints or showing skin. Or the friend who wears an 80s white leather jacket and creepers.

    Stop looking at the wrapper. Good things come in all kinds (and sizes) of packages.

  27. “The “pantyhose are so dowdy and 80s” thing really bothers me. If fashion norms “require” you to bare your skin, then the skin and the condition of your legs is a fashion statement in itself. Women whose bodies vary from the ideal are given nowhere to hide.”

    Thank you, thank you! ME TOO!!! I have some unwanted pigmentation issues around my ankles and like the cover I get from pantyhose. Not to mention that having my nekkid thighs rub together gives me a rash that I never got when wearing pantyhose.

    I’ve simply given up wearing dresses. So, there!

  28. You know, as disgusted as I was after reading that article where an accomplished woman is being attacked by fashion writers for wearing what could only be described as appropriate professional attire, it was actually very refreshing to read an article about Sotomayor that wasn’t about her race.

    In fact, race is barely mentioned. Finally, a Puerto Rican woman is being judged not by the color of her skin, but by the contents of her wardrobe! Unlike the racist newscasters who spend endless hours discussing Sonia Sotomayor’s ethnicity, Robin Givhan has judged her by the same sexist double-standards that all American women have endured at one point or another. Hooray!

    Forgoing racism in favor of sexism. What a progressive article.

  29. Forgoing racism in favor of sexism

    notfatima42, I would argue that the article is ignoring racism as well as sexism, while also participating at least in the latter.

  30. Besides Ricci, has the GOP brought up anything from her 17 year judicial record? Any written opinions? Not that I have heard.

    So – she is unqualified by virtue of the fact that she is a “wise Latina,” occasionally irritated by unprepared lawyers (doesn’t tolerate fools gladly), diabetic and fat. Her critics have so little to go on that the only thing they can do is twist and change the truth on the above.

  31. I’ve been dealing with an allergic-reaction rash on my lower leg, and yes, pantyhose or pants – mostly pants.

    The rash has cleared up and the weather turned warmer, so today I’m wearing a linen blend skirt and long-sleeved v-neck cotton knit shirt. Nicer than what most of my male coworkers wear, and more dowdy than most of my female coworkers.

  32. Can I just say, Type I Diabetes Represent! Yes! I would love to talk to her about if/how being diabetic has been important in negotiating her career, because it has in mine (any job without health insurance is OUT, f’rinstance).

    I am delighted that Sotomayor is known as a tough questioner. And the whole “I don’t like a bully” thing… jeez. I expect the judge is questioning your *argument* not your validity as a human being.

    I heard Sandra Day O’Connor on broadcast of a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival about judicial reform and some other legal stuff (she was on with Justice Briar [Brear? Bryer?] as well).

    By and large she was your usual articulate, interesting public speaker. Then, some guy asked a dopey comment-question and Day O’Connor just jumped on him “Well, that is just so wrong!” she snapped and then went on to detail WHY.

    What I LOVED about her, and about the idea of Sotomayor getting down to business in the courtroom is, there is no Dainty Little Bite of Judicial Expertise and High Standards going on there. It’s a big, generous helping of FOR REAL.

    Nibble on that, Lindsey Graham.

    I think Ghivan is living in the same fashion universe as Anna Wintour, as well. For one thing, I invite her to go without hose throughout a Minnesota winter and get back to me on how well blue, then white, then red from frostbite go with her appropriately feminine suits.

    Everyone else has said it, but it’s so, so true. The woman was in the Senate hearings to become a Supreme Court Judge. If you’re worried about anything having to do with womanhood and this probable justice, stop nit-picking her clothing choices. Start worrying instead about how well she’s going to uphold your right to a safe and legal abortion, your chances of getting equal pay, or being protected from discriminatory practice. (All things we should think about relative to the man-justices as well, I note.)

    Sheesh.

  33. So after reading that artcle I’ve come to the conclusion that someone should appoint this poor fashion-backward Sotomayor person to a lifetime position in which she will be required to drape her body in long black robes.

    Really, it’s the only solution.

  34. Personally, I don’t think national newspapers should have a fashion columnist. I think it is a trivial subject the sole purpose of which is to sell products, and that designers should pay for space in serious publications.

    But I also recognize that my views are unusual. Lots and lots of women seem to like fashions. The fatosphere is awash with sites and posts about fashion. As someone who spends as little as necessary to avoid criticism in the clothing department, I can’t really see the difference between saying “Oh, that dress is so cute” and “Oh, those pantihose are so dowdy”. Is one supposed to only have positive opinions? Should fashion only be presented as “here are some other options you individuals with individual tastes might want to consider”? That sounds good to me, but very unlikely, since designers can’t sell new products if people are happy with the old ones.

    Maybe the rule should be that no one should comment on the clothing of someone who is not making a strong fashion statement. If the person isn’t interested in the subject, don’t express opinions on it.

    Sorry. Social blind spot to me.

  35. I didn’t really watch the hearings, but one of the times I flipped by it, Sotomayor was wearing a cute red blazer. I was like “Oh, she likes bright, bold color. Cool.” These are Senate hearings, not the catwalk in Milan. God forbid someone dresses approrpriately for their job.

    I hate how every aspect of a woman’s life is constantly up for crticism. Grr. *shakes fist at the patriarchy*

  36. There is no female version of the suit. No classic outfit that looks good on 90% of us and is instantly professional/nice.

    Well, really, suits work for women, too. It’s just that there’s more variety in cut, and the whole pants/skirt question.

    Sotomayor, had she thrown on a string of big pearls or a brooch, would have looked like any middle-aged Senator or Congresswoman or Cabinet Secretary (bar Nancy Pelosi and Condi Rice). IOW, she dressed perfectly appropriately for her position, the setting, etc. Washington’s a conservative town, dress-wise.

    I was more than happy to throw off the shackles of pantyhose after having to wear skirts and stockings to work early in my career. And even after we got to wear pants, it was a big question whether we could wear them in court. My coworker and I were thrilled to be at a hearing in front of Kimba Wood and catching sight of pant legs under her robe. We wore pants to court the next day.

    For chafing, I do bike shorts under my skirts, and I’m fine. But I’m also in business-casual mode nowadays (thank FSM for that) and I don’t wear pencil skirts much anymore.

  37. Fortunately, Sotomayor exercised good judgement in what to wear for a job interview, not the height of fashion.

    And naked skin is more fashionable than pantyhose, I didn’t know that. I never liked hose much, preferred tights; but I like them better than naked legs that rub against each other and make me uncomfortable. Being a mom has its advantages in that I can wear mom jeans too, fashionable ones are not comfortable for me, and not very practical for murdering blackberry bushes either.

  38. I can’t really see the difference between saying “Oh, that dress is so cute” and “Oh, those pantihose are so dowdy”.

    You… can’t see the difference between a compliment and a judgment? That’s a pretty serious blind spot.

    Unless you meant that in the context of fashion in a senate hearing both are equally irrelevant? But then I’m not sure what that has to do with the fact that people in the fatosphere like fashion.

  39. I’ve been stressed the last couple days because we have candidates coming in for campus interviews and I had to figure out what to wear.

    I’m not the interviewee, so I just have to look professional. But I tend towards the extremely casual end of the spectrum almost all the time, whereas my dept. chair wears suits and ties a lot. I hate having to dress up for work (skirts/hose/etc.) I have major foot issues too so not wearing my sneakers and orthotics causes a lot of pain.

    Which left me agonizing yesterday for an hour whether dark cargo pants were “dressy” enough for going to a dinner with a job candidate, and whether I could “get away with” my black sneakers.

    Then one of my (male) coworkers came to the restaurant in a Red Sox jersey (he hadn’t been planning on being at the dinner but he ended up on that side of town).

    *headdesk*

    DRST

  40. Well, “cute” and “dowdy” are pretty extreme differences, but what about a site like “Go Fug Yourself” — is that fine, because it’s focused on women who are theoretically into fashion? Or is it rude, because it involves criticism more often than compliments? Is it okay to say Lady Gaga doesn’t wear enough clothes? Is it okay to say Michelle Obama looks great in her official portrait but it’s inappropriate for her to be sleeveless? That’s the stuff I mean. On an interpersonal level I can compliment the new dress and would never criticize someone’s clothing choices. It’s just unclear to me what’s okay for public discourse.

  41. Man, I really hope Sonia Sotomayor doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Robin Givhan thinks about her personal appearance.

  42. If you’re having trouble differentiating between critiquing the clothes of a professional clothes-wearer and critiquing the clothes of a Supreme Court nominee, I’m just not sure what I can say to help.

  43. It’s just unclear to me what’s okay for public discourse.

    Well, obviously, “what’s okay for public discourse” varies depending on who you ask; are you looking for a feminist stamp of approval? Saying on a fashion blog that a celebrity is wearing a goofy outfit is very, very different from saying in the Washington Post that a Supreme Court nominee is insufficiently feminine. I’m not really sure how to explain that difference, because I’m not sure what about it is unclear.

  44. I think it is a trivial subject the sole purpose of which is to sell products,

    I also want to add that the idea that fashion is a trivial subject is not really separable from the idea that fashion is a feminine subject. I’m not saying that’s what you personally think, just that criticizing women for not being fashionable enough and then turning around to damn women for being so obsessed with such trivial subjects as fashion is a classic double bind of the patriarchy.

  45. Woah, I clicked over and you are totally right. She just raises the fact that she leaves those things at the door and just *stops*. Was sort of weird.

  46. I think he/she (i don’t know) was saying that fashion critics are trivial, not that there is something wrong with fashion itself (it may perhaps be considered a trivial matter but we all like some trivial things). But then again, I can’t be sure and I don’t want to speak for someone else.

  47. As a total threadjack: we’re getting reports that the American health care debate has made it such that we, the Canadian people, are being held up as living in the grip of Cthulhu’s Health Care Hell. I have not found this to be the case, and have had a number of things go wrong needing either emergency or specialist care.

    If anyone needs a written letter/post/explanation denying that Canada’s only health care options are leeching and trepanation, let me know. I don’t know what you’re being told, besides … uh, things being really expensive? (Sort of the opposite of “free”.)

  48. It’s not just that she’s failing to be a fashion plate, it’s that she’s actually choosing to dress in a way that might — gasp! — increase the chances of her getting the job she wants. I guess professionalism, like neutrality, is something only white men can have.

    Yes, this. “How dare you make a choice which very slightly threatens my view that being fashion forward is the Most Importantest Thing Evar???”

  49. Robin Givhan has a job that requires her to talk about fashion in the non-fashion world of Washington. The Sotomayor hearings were the big deal in Washington this week, so what was she supposed to say? “Sotomayor looked fine. End of article”?

    I should not have used the word “trivial” because it came across like an insult, but it seems to me that the very concept of discussing fashion outside of the fashion industry is somewhat anti-feminist. Having opinions at all about what working women are wearing trivializes what they do by dragging them back into the world where women are meant to be decorative. In that context, “She looks so cute in that” really is the same as “Those pantyhose look dowdy.”

    And, in a way, caring about fashion does contribute to that. If I choose my clothes in the hopes of hearing I look great I am inviting people to consider my looks. Manners may tell them “only compliment, never criticize” but the invitation is to look and it ads to the whole “lookism” problem of being female in modern society.

    I don’t mean that it is wrong or sexist to be into fashion, but I think it is a tension in feminism. The greater the interest in everyday fashion, the more Robin Givhan columns there are out there, the greater the pressure on women to be professional AND fashionable.

    My blindness is about how to reconcile this interest in fashion that lots and lots of women have with the desire to have the world stop judging women by their appearance. I think this is a first wave/third wave issue.

  50. TB, I get where you’re coming from, and I think we’re on the same page about how the requirements of looking fashionable are used to oppress women. Of course fashion causes tension within feminism; that’s why I think we have an obligation to think politically about fashion. You can opt out personally as much as you want, but you’re still going to be read by others by your fashion choices. That sucks. But it doesn’t mean that people who like fashion, or who find the engagement with those expectations interesting, are being anti-feminist for *not* opting out.

    so what was she supposed to say? “Sotomayor looked fine. End of article”?

    Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I believe I made some suggestions in this very post.

    I think this is a first wave/third wave issue.

    I think maybe you mean second wave, unless you are a bit older than I imagined.

  51. Robin Givhan has a job that requires her to talk about fashion in the non-fashion world of Washington. The Sotomayor hearings were the big deal in Washington this week, so what was she supposed to say? “Sotomayor looked fine. End of article”?

    Are you *trying* to miss the point? Because it was explained right up there in the post:

    Here’s the thing about Robin Givhan, the WaPo’s fashion journalist. She frequently writes about fashion in contexts that should make for fascinating readings: the images portrayed by women in power, and how their stylistic choices reflect (or, often, deflect) our expectations of femininity. Sounds right up our alley, no? But here’s the other thing about Givhan: she’s bad at it. To be more precise (and more fair), she’s not bad at writing, and she’s not bad at fashion; she’s just bad at feminism. Sure, I don’t need all reporters in the world to be feminist (but, oh, what a world that would be!), but if your beat consists of analyzing fashion and gender, and you’re not doing it through a feminist lens, you may as well work for Cosmo.

    IOW, clothes send a message, and the choices made by powerful figures in how they dress for particular occasions can be analyzed for the message they send. Sometimes Givhan actually succeeds at analyzing the message, such as when she wrote about the message that Dick Cheney’s parka and snow boots sent when he attended a solemn memorial at Auschwitz:

    At yesterday’s gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen’s hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

    The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower. . .

    His wife, Lynne, was seated next to him. Her coat has a hood, too, and it is essentially a parka. But it is black and did not appear to be functioning as either a name tag or a billboard. One wonders if at some point the vice president turned to his wife, took in her attire and asked himself why they seemed to be dressed for two entirely different events.

    Some might argue that Cheney was the only attendee with the smarts to dress for the cold and snowy weather. But sometimes, out of respect for the occasion, one must endure a little discomfort.

    Just last week, in a frigid, snow-dusted Washington, Cheney sat outside through the entire inauguration without so much as a hat and without suffering frostbite. And clearly, Cheney owns a proper overcoat. The world saw it during his swearing-in as vice president. Cheney treated that ceremony with the dignity it deserved — not simply through his demeanor, but also through his attire. Would he have dared to take the oath of office with a ski cap on? People would have justifiably considered that an insult to the office, the day, the country.

    The point of the post is that Givhan’s analysis routinely fails when the subject is a powerful woman rather than a powerful man. Look at that bit I quoted above, and then compare it to the Sotomayor article. Cheney wasn’t being criticized for not being sexy enough; he was being criticized for not dressing for the occasion and the big fuck-you that sent to the rest of the world. Sotomayor, on the other hand *is* being criticized for dressing for the occasion; Givhan’s complaint is that she’s *not* being sexy enough, damn the occasion.

    These are the kinds of things that make her lousy at her job, and these are the kinds of things that make her beat potentially very interesting. Instead, when the subject is a woman, we get FAIL.

  52. I should mention as well that I wouldn’t wear what Sotomayor was wearing to a job interview. But a) I don’t get interviewed on television, and there are things to consider about how well things show up; and b) when I interview, I have to dress to project professionalism and authority; she had to dress to reassure the Senate and the public that she’s not some kind of monster bitch who doesn’t have judicial temperament. She had to project approachability and warmth as well as professionalism, and just enough authority that Jeff Sessions and Lindsay Graham’s balls didn’t retract into their chest cavities from the perceived threat.

  53. The only thing I remember from women’s professional attire in the 80s, is the hideous floppy bows at the neck of the buttoned up blouses.

    I don’t see one in any of Ms. Sotomayor’s photos.

    Robin Givhan fails.

  54. I meant first wave, dagnabit! Now get off my lawn! (mumble, mumble kids these days …) : )

  55. But it doesn’t mean that people who like fashion, or who find the engagement with those expectations interesting, are being anti-feminist for *not* opting out.

    PUT DOWN/PICK UP THAT HANDBAG

    Or, you know, bustle. We are talking about first wave feminism, after all.

  56. I am in my mid twenties and from Southern California, and I would never show up to court without stockings on.

    Really? Here in Chicago, ostensibly a more conservative legal environment than SoCal, I show up to court all the time with bare legs and so do plenty of other attorneys. Just goes to show that you never know.

    I have to agree with LilahMorgan about Corporette. I hate that website. I checked it out after it was recommended to me by an associate at a big law firm who declared that she would 1) never wear a ponytail at work because “it looks childish” (the FUCK?!) 2) never, ever wear open toed shoes to the office. We’re not even talking about court here. We’re talking about sitting in the damn office.

    I hate law firms. I’m currently wearing flip-flops.

  57. Hi I came here from a link someone posted on Twitter. Enjoyed your take on Givhan’s article. I know the point is much broader, but I think what she wore is exactly what one would expect someone being interviewed by congress to wear. (I’m male.)Professional attire. I don’t see how anything OTHER than a woman’s suit would be “appropriate”.

  58. OTM, reporting from the front:

    On the way back from lunch (with the lovely and delightful Fatistician Shinobi herself), I popped into the hilariously awfully named Dress Barn Woman (mostly because I wasn’t ready to face my desk again) and hanging right there in the front by the door were about three different variations on Sotomayor Suits – similar cuts and colors to the jackets, mostly, plus a dark pinstripe with an included pink scarf accent. Now, Dress Barn is not known (to me, anyway) to be on the cutting edge of trend, but it’s a reasonable source for suits for the fashion demographic in which Sotomayor squarely falls.

    So, yeah.

    (and another Chicago Lawyer’s Tale: my legal writing professor (a reactionary nitwit of astounding proportions) made it a grade requirement for women to wear skirts for the Big Oral Argument thing at the end of our first year, with the justification that the Seventh Circuit adheres to the same requirement and if we little ladies don’t like it, we should consider a different profession. This was in 2005, btw. And I’m wearing jeans right now, even though I’m technically not supposed to because 1) it’s deadline time and I am really not feeling the whole getting dressed thing; and 2) nobody freaking notices anyway. I’m definitely up to my ears in Professional Fat Lawyer/Party Time Fun Lady wardrobe issues, and am possibly on to a solution, and maybe one day I will write a blog about it. Or not.)

  59. Man, Givhan seems to really not get it. I mean, I’m pretty bad at knowing what is work-appropriate (I’m lucky the extent of the rules at my work for everyone is – no bare shoulders, no bare midriffs, jeans and trainers on friday only, unless trainers are needed for medical reasons) but even I can see that Sotomayor wore perfectly appropriate, smart and attractive clothes for that interview. She looks professional and smart and very lawyerly.

  60. I am once again so very grateful for my completely casual workplace. And I’m eventually planning to move from academic libraries to children’s services, where the dress code tends to be “vaguely professional and will not scare the children or scandalize the parents”.

    And thanks for posting the article on Cheney — that’s really an excellent piece of political fashion reporting. It’s nice to know that she gets it right sometimes.

  61. I’m not the interviewee, so I just have to look professional. But I tend towards the extremely casual end of the spectrum almost all the time, whereas my dept. chair wears suits and ties a lot. I hate having to dress up for work (skirts/hose/etc.) I have major foot issues too so not wearing my sneakers and orthotics causes a lot of pain.

    Oh God, DRST, do I *EVER* get this. I flat-out do not apply for jobs where Business Wear is Required (how many suits have you found in size 5x/6x/36/38?) Catalog does not cut it for something that fitted – it would probably be cheaper to go to Men’s Wearhouse or Kaufman’s Big & Tall and demand that men’s suits be altered for me than dealing with all the shipping back and forth, or flat-out having a suit made. Gad.

    I stick with Business Casual, thanks, or – preferably – a jeans/t-shirt dress code. I can wear jeans and knit slacks and tops that fit and aren’t going to tear or cause problems if I end up under a desk working on a machine. Nobody cares about my black walking shoes. Thank God.

  62. Pardon the thread-jacking a bit, but up above there were a couple of references to What Not To Wear. I looked up some old posts on WNTW because truthfully I have always experienced some cognitive dissonance while watching it, but at the end of the day I’m a fan.

    SM wrote a post–granted only based on one episode, it seems–highlighting WNTW for its body-positive message, but the views up above were more negative , for a variety of reasons.

    First of all, I think that since the women choose to accept the money, WNTW does a good job of blending their personal style with what the audience wants to see (a person who looks radically different by the end of the show). Stacey and Clinton do let women break fashion rules; one particular instance is coming to mind where an average-looking woman loved white pants, and the producers let her buy some and she rocked them even though white pants “make you look fat”.

    I’ve never seen an episode like the one in SM’s post, where Stacey says something denying that one of the main goals of fashion is to look skinny, and usually the stylists tell the women to wear things that are figure flattering, but in almost all of the episodes I’ve seen, the women come out the other side of the process feeling a lot better and more confident about their bodies. Sure, they arrived at that self acceptance on terms that weren’t entirely their own, and owed a lot to societal standards, but I think this is at least a pragmatic approach to body positivity, if not an ideal one.

    And just so this isn’t completely a thread hijack, I would argue that Sotomayor’s wardrobe choices were pretty darn impressive in that she–successfully, I think–walked the very fine line between pragmatism and idealism that women are forced to negotiate; i.e., she wore clothes that showed personality (and dare I say it, style?) without causing Lindsey Graham et al’s balls to recede into their chests, LOL.

  63. The simple fact is is that women don’t have an “easy” button like men do. There is no female version of the suit. No classic outfit that looks good on 90% of us and is instantly professional/nice.

    The classic male outfit doesn’t “look good” on 90% of men, either, it’s just that that’s okay. Guys don’t have to look good, they just have to look professional and reasonably clean. It isn’t that women look any worse in the female version of the business suit, it’s that women are held to a different standard of beauty, where “appropriate and clean” doesn’t cut it..

    I think the business suit look for women works fine, myself. It’s a form of uniform, yeah, but that’s its function when men wear it as well. I don’t see it as unfair to expect women to wear similiar uniforms to those men are expected to wear. I do see it as unfair to expect women to “look good” when their primary goal should be “look professional.”

    IMHO, looking professional is “looking good” in that context. Some guys look sexy or romantically attractive in buisiness attire, and some don’t, but that’s beside the point. Women should be held to the same standard.

  64. “I flat-out do not apply for jobs where Business Wear is Required”

    Me too! Though I guess I should say, suit wear. I just cannot stand conformity-I think it grates on my soul. I like dressing up, but I hate being told just exactly how I should dress up. Sometimes I wear makeup and sometimes I don’t. I like to wear skirts to work, because never cools me better, but since I’m too lazy to shave and since I think pantyhose were invented by the nemesis of comfort-people will just have to be confused by my feminine skirts and hairy legs. I could never be a lawyer and admire people like Sotomayor, because that kind of compromise makes me too miserable. Right now with working at a major retailer, looking professional, is more about colors-I can only wear black, brown, white, khaki or a combination of those. Besides the fact that my store has unethical practices, (and I will leave it at that for now…) just the fact that I cannot wear bright colors is reason enough for me to look for another job. Oh yeah, and according to a former manager there, my glasses make me look “innocent” and I was congratulated when I wore contacts one day and proclaimed that I was now “one of them.” Creeeepy. Funny, I always thought that wearing glasses just enabled me to see well enough to not run into walls and read and to do other professional stuff.

  65. *because nothing cools me better than wearing a skirt and being able to feel a breeze if one should so happen to pass on by

    is what I think I meant to say lol

  66. living400lbs – amen! I think I wanted to go into filmmaking or writing because I could wear jeans almost all the time. :)

    Unfortunately I ended up a professor at a fairly conservative private college, so while I can get away with jeans sometimes (like, say, when I just had abdominal surgery and can’t wear anything but jeans or sweatpants for months) but I have managed to find some plain denim or cotton twill pants that will do for work. I have much less problem finding shirts that work – plain t-shirts or sweaters, etc. I was ecstatic that polo shirts came back this year. I bought about 8 of ‘em and I might go back to Macys to get a few more.

    The shoes are an ongoing problem. I probably need to find some orthopedic shoes that aren’t sneakers at some point. Rar.

    DRST

  67. Weighing in on the bare legs at court discussion: I work in a courthouse in S. California, and routinely wear skirts/dresses without hose. I even wear jeans on Fridays. However, were I to be appearing in court (like in the courtroom with a judge present), I would definitely be wearing a skirt/dress + hose or slacks. Moreover, I would be wearing a jacket or blazer, too. If I had to choose either the jacket or the hose, though, I’d definitely go with the jacket.

    My other observation: has Ms. Givhans never seen a female judge in her work-but-no-robe clothes? Because I see female judges all the time, and Judge Sotomayor’s sartorial choices for her Senate appearance were very much in line with what I see other female judges wearing to work. In fact, it was very much in line with what powerful women in government wear — as these photos of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson(pic @left), Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano Governor Beverley Purdue, and Sec. of Health & Human Svcs Kathleen Sebelius show. Now, these women obviously pull the look off with varying degrees of success, and they each tweak it according to personal taste, but as you can see, Judge Sotomayor’s clothing choices are clearly in the mainstream of “the look” for politically powerful women.

    Like it or lump it, this is a look that clearly works for women in the corridors of power

  68. Weighing in on the bare legs at court discussion: I work in a courthouse in S. California, and routinely wear skirts/dresses without hose. I even wear jeans on Fridays. However, were I to be appearing in court (like in the courtroom with a judge present), I would definitely be wearing a skirt/dress + hose or slacks. Moreover, I would be wearing a jacket or blazer, too. If I had to choose either the jacket or the hose, though, I’d definitely go with the jacket.

    My other observation: has Ms. Givhans never seen a female judge in her work-but-no-robe clothes? Because I see female judges all the time, and Judge Sotomayor’s sartorial choices for her Senate appearance were very much in line with what I see other female judges wearing to work. In fact, it was very much in line with what powerful women in government wear — as these photos of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson(pic @left), Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano Governor Beverley Purdue, and Sec. of Health & Human Svcs Kathleen Sebelius show. Now, these women obviously pull the look off with varying degrees of success, and they each tweak it according to personal taste, but as you can see, Judge Sotomayor’s clothing choices are clearly in the mainstream of “the look” for politically powerful women.

    Like it or lump it, this is a look that clearly works for women in the corridors of power.

  69. All I’ve read of Givhan are S.M.’s excerpts, but it sounds as though she is assuming that every Hispanic woman should want to show up in loud colors, tight skirts and a hat made out of fruit, like Carmen Miranda. A conservative business suit w/pantyhose and sensible heels is appropriate attire for a judge, appropriate attire for a Congressional hearing, and appropriate attire for a woman whose sprained ankle is still in the process of healing. To suggest anything else is to assume, in an ignorant, sexist , possibly racist, fashion, that Judge Sotomayor is there to show off anything other than her good brain, impressive credentials, and knowledge of the law.

  70. I am so tired of people being miserable to Judge Sotomayor.
    She completely deserves the confirmation.
    There is nothing wrong with 80’s fashions either…I love the elegance and power of the structured dresses and suits of the era. I am a HUGE Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler fan.
    I also love the powerful suits and structure of Joan Crawford-esque Adrian Gilbert designs.
    I agree fashion is political. There is a certain “uniform” (which I avoid like the plague because it simply is not me) that is required of all women and men in a position of power (be it political or corporate): The conservative, standard business skirt/pant suit/dress with a blazer and hose and sensible pumps. The guy version is the standard business suit.
    I hate wearing them but I am also aware that if I show up at a job interview in anything but, I will not get the job. Period.
    And for a judge being interviewed for a gig in the Supreme Court, what she made were standard and appropriate choices. I mean what did this Givhan lady expect, an Herve Leger bandage dress? Come the heck on!!!!!
    As a creative person who loves the crazier, artsier side of fashion conforming to a certain style of dressing IRKS me to no end. But if you want to work in certain fields, you know what is expected.
    Thank you for another great article :-)

  71. Robin Givhan is good when she writes about fashion shows and the clothes that are shown in them, but she is both mean and judgmental when she writes about individuals. And having read her Washington Post chats, I can tell you that she has no empathy or any kind of understanding that not everyone has had the worldly upbringing or experience or positions she expects. For instance, she savaged poor Susan Boyle, a sweet and unworldly woman who suffered mild brain damage at birth and had seldom been out of her little Scottish town.

    I’ve reached the point where I refuse to read her non-fashion-show articles, because I really don’t need to deal with Robin Givhan being nasty to some other woman — the example of Cheney was given above, but he’s an exception, it’s almost always women, and she’s almost always a bitch.

  72. Sonia Sotomayor “left her gender at the door” by appearing before the Senate in a bright blue and bright red jacket, skirt, and black pantyhose (in other words, dressing like a 50-something-year-old professional woman)?

    I would really like to see a male Supreme Court nominee try to get by with that ensemble.

    She looked nice, and the red was a very good color on her.

    She’s also not fat, except by Hollywood standards.

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