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Why Are We Talking About Radhika Jones's Clothes?

The incoming Vanity Fair editor’s wardrobe has been the subject of debate this week, for some reason.

Vanity Fair Editor Radhika Jones Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Time

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Radhika Jones, the incoming editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, is the first Indian-American woman ever to be named EIC of a major magazine and the first person of color to helm the celebrated title, taking the reins from Graydon Carter, a publishing icon coming off an impressive 25-year tenure. She’s been an editor at The New York Times, The Paris Review, and Time, and holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia.

This week, she’s also the target of a rash of high school-level gossip playing out in the name of... journalism? Pettiness? It’s unclear. Today, WWD published an account by accessories and features editor Misty White Sidell of an anonymous Condé Nast fashion editor she overheard commenting on Jones’s choice of attire for a visit to One World Trade:

“She seemed nervous. The outfit was interesting,” the staffer noted. According to the fashion editor — who omitted Jones’ admirable literary accomplishments from conversation — the incoming editor wore a navy shiftdress strewn with zippers, a garment deemed as “iffy” at best.

Jones’ choice of hosiery proved most offensive, according to the editor. For the occasion, Jones had chosen a pair of tights — not in a neutral black or gray as is common in the halls of Vogue — but rather a pair covered with illustrated, cartoon foxes.”

This followed a lengthy story in the Daily Beast in which similarly anonymous Vanity Fair staffers opined on whether their new boss would be able to handle the job. “The learning curve will be very steep for her, because she hasn’t done the job before — and actually it’s a very difficult job,” remarked one Condé “Kremlinologist,” sounding somewhat Trumpian in the process.

WWD’s piece in particular prompted instant online backlash, with supporters on Twitter calling for solidarity in the form of animal-printed hosiery, but of course, it’s wasn’t just about the tights. For many, the piece confirmed the biased treatment facing successful women — particularly women of color — when they rise to the top of any industry. Allure editor Michelle Lee likened it to the infuriating time someone compared her hiring to “replacing the classic car with ‘a younger Asian model’” (the “classic” car being the magazine’s former editor, Linda Wells, who is white).

Gossip is inevitable in most offices, particularly during times of upheaval — something the media world has seen plenty of in recent years. There will always be people who feel threatened and lash out to their colleagues. What is avoidable is elevating these snide comments to the level of newsworthy public discourse, pitting staff against a woman who is by all accounts incredibly talented and qualified for the job. Jones deserves far better than this.