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The Truth About Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s Cowboy Hats

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The lawmaker’s style shouldn’t be used to attack her politics.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) attends the burial service for US Army Sgt. La David Johnson at the Memorial Gardens East Cemetery on October 21, 2017, in Hollywood, Florida. Sgt. Johnson and three other American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on
Rep. Wilson attends the burial service for US Army Sgt. La David Johnson on October 21st in Hollywood, Florida. Sgt. Johnson and three other American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on October 4th. 
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Since Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson blasted President Trump’s handling of a call to a Gold Star widow last week, the lawmaker has been threatened and slandered. And, like many women who dare to question authority, Wilson’s appearance has come under scrutiny — specifically her fashion sense.

The right-leaning Washington Times dubbed the congresswoman a “clown in a cowboy hat.The New York Times called her “flamboyant,” and Politico pointed out “her vibrant matching outfits.” Trump took to Twitter to call her “wacky,” and former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke joined in on the social media bullying as well, posting a picture of Wilson in a red bedazzled hat and matching suit, declaring, “The woman is a buffoon. Look at her.” Apparently, it was lost on Clarke that his Twitter profile picture also shows him in a cowboy hat.

While the news media praised white supremacist Richard Spencer for his fashion sense, as if how he dressed lent the alt-right credibility, Wilson’s wardrobe staples are being used to suggest that her concerns with Trump lack merit, or even that she’s stupid. Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt’s takedown of the congresswoman is a case in point.

Congresswoman Wilson has long been known for pretty much only one thing: the ridiculous, colorful, feathered, and sequined cowboy hats she sports around the halls of Congress,” he wrote. “Otherwise, she is ignored because of her stultifying ignorance. A clown in a cowboy hat. All hat, no cattle. A hat rack, only dumber. Her style — or distinctive lack thereof — has always been humorously tolerated because she seemed fairly harmless in a place that is increasingly useless.”

In fact, Wilson is known for being a gun control advocate who criticized her state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law after Trayvon Martin’s 2012 killing in her district. She fought for more funding to fight the Zika virus and reforms at nursing homes to keep her constituents safe. She’s also a longtime educator with a master of science in elementary education, an honorary doctorate, and a history of mentoring young people, including Sgt. La David Johnson, the slain soldier at the center of her disagreement with President Trump. To reduce the congresswoman to “a clown in a cowboy hat” does her and the Floridians she’s helped a great disservice.

What’s more, there’s a story behind Wilson’s cowboy hats. She’s been wearing them for more than 30 years, following in the footsteps of her namesake grandmother.

“When I was a little girl, they all wore hats and gloves,” she told The Hill in 2013. “I was always a prissy little girl who wanted to be like my grandmother.”

Back in middle school, Wilson was called into the dean’s office for wearing Davy Crockett-style hats, but her father came to her defense. She’s described her love of hats as “almost like a fetish.”

After her election to Congress in 2010, Wilson even tried to overturn a rule prohibiting hats on the House floor, but ultimately gave up the fight since the ban dates back to the 1800s, and she wanted to focus on serving her constituents.

On Monday, one of them — Sgt. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson — backed up Wilson’s account of her phone call with Trump last week. Johnson said the president did not bother to refer to her husband by name, leaving her more upset than she’d already been. Perhaps now that Johnson has corroborated Wilson’s version of events, the congresswoman’s critics will stop focusing on what she’s wearing and address what she’s saying.