Politics in the U.S. has many layers that go beyond American values and morals. Every aspect of a politician’s public and personal life is scrutinized. Female politicians, being a minority, typically face a different kind of media attention than men.
Of course there is overlap in media coverage between men and women, but the focus on fashion in politics tends to be a hotter topic for women than men. There are plenty of reasons as to why that is. One of them being that women have a wider array of options to wear than men. The standard for men’s political fashion is fairly straightforward: Suit, tie and dress shoes. Women have a lot more options, making their outfit choices unpredictable and easier to report on.
There have been some questionable cases in recent political history that make me think women’s fashion has become glorified so much that it distracts from what the politician is saying or doing.
I tried googling “Bill Clinton DNC” and “Melania Trump RNC.”
The three words, in order, that show up when I type in “Bill Clinton DNC” are: Speech, 2016, balloons. When I enter “Melania Trump RNC” the three available words are: dress, fashion, white dress.
The speeches of both the potential first lady and first gentleman were criticized by their audiences for different reasons. Melania Trump’s speech was a particularly big deal because she was caught reading a speech that mirrored Michelle Obama’s speech from the Democratic National Convention a few years back. Despite her controversial speech, nothing came up about the speech in the search bar, rather mainly content about what she wore to the Republican National Convention.
This obsession with women’s fashion, even in the political sphere shows the correlation between women and fashion in politics. The clothes that a woman wears, it seems, are taken more seriously than the words that come out of her mouth.
In June earlier this year, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was in the headlines for wearing an Armani jacket that costs an upward of $12,000. People were outraged by the hypocritical message she seemed to be sending, as the speech was about income inequality.
Time.com published an article titled “The Internet Is Mad That Hillary Clinton Dresses Nicely” around the time of the Armani jacket incident. The article was written by Alicia Adamczyk who points out Donald Trump’s ironic wardrobe. Donald Trump’s platform is about creating jobs for U.S. citizens and deporting illegal immigrants in order to make more jobs, but he sings this speech whilst wearing a $17,000 Brioni suit from Italy. How is Trump’s wardrobe any less hypocritical than Clinton’s?
It's understandable to own a nice Italian suit as a rich man, but even his own clothing line is outsourced to China for production, which completely counteracts his platform for producing more jobs in the U.S.
It cannot be said with 100 percent certainty that Clinton’s story exploded because she is a woman, but there has to be some connection between her gender and this story, considering the value that the media places on the fashion of high profile women.
Adamczyk posed an interesting question at the end of her article: “Had she worn a $20 Target dress, would that have made a difference? Or would she instead be ridiculed for trying to be one of the people?”
When you are a woman in politics, there is a fine line between what an acceptable wardrobe is and what is not. They are expected to dress presentably, and act the part of the celebrity that they've become, but only to a certain extent.
The problem is when the substance of what a woman has to say is minimized by the focus on her wardrobe. Part of politics is entertainment, which is what this media mentality emulates. It's important to remember that politics is supposed to be a conversation about real world issues and when the color, the designer or the price gets in the way of that, it's demeaning toward all politicians, whether they are male or female.
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