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There's a running joke about Hillary Clinton and pantsuits and it goes something like, "haha, Hillary Clinton sure has a lot of pantsuits, huh?" While little attention is paid to her work as one of Washington's major power players, lots of words are spilled about her choice of attire. Or that time she got bangs. And, while it's entertaining, this media focus around her appearance is actually belittling to her career.
Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic at the New York Times, would like us to think otherwise. It's no secret that appearances are important, and subsequently style is a powerful thing. Rihanna nearly broke the internet when she showed up at the CFDA Awards, Kate Middleton sells out dresses just by walking outside, and Michelle Obama launched Jason Wu's career in one night.
So why should this power be downplayed with women working in Washington? "When you think about it, who better, really, to use as role models than women like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Julia Gillard and Kirsten Gillibrand?" said Friedman. "And while their lessons are primarily professional, there is no reason they should not be extended to appearance, too—especially when it comes to appearance in the workplace, or the public space."
Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton at the Women for Women 20th Anniversary Gala. Image via Getty
In fact, we should start watching these women's appearances even more then the celebrities currently nabbing magazine covers. "It certainly makes more sense, when you think about it, than, say, using Jennifer Lawrence or Nicole Kidman or Rihanna as a model," Friedman stated. "It really makes no sense at all, when you think about it, that we are supposed to take our dressing cues from 20-something celebrities [...] most of whom are, in fact, not even dressing themselves and certainly are not dressing themselves for pitching a new client or negotiating a deal or teaching or—well, anything other than stalking the red carpet or making charity trips to India." (Ah, there's that sass we've come to know and love.)
Outside of the political realm, there are others who we should start watching more as well. Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Christine Lagarde (International Monetary Fund), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), and Mary Barra (General Motors) are all leaders in their fields, "but though they all dress very well, they barely utter a sartorial word—most probably because of the fear of not being taken seriously," said Friedman. "And in doing so, they perpetuate the problem. The way to neuter the issue is not to pretend it doesn't exist, but to embrace it and move on."