Graphic by  Tara Steinmetz

Graphic by Tara Steinmetz

THE FASHION OF POLITICS IS CHANGING (AND FOR THE BETTER)

By Katrina Froelich

1 ·20· 2019

 
 

One of ancient Egypt’s most prosperous rulers, profitable traders, and prolific builders was actually a Queen, rather than a King. Hatshepsut reigned peacefully for over twenty years in the 15th century B.C, ushering in a renaissance that marked the beginning of the New Kingdom period in ancient Egyptian history. It took a while for archeologists and scholars to even realize she was, well, a she.

Hatshepsut, like all politicians, knew the importance of presentation, and almost every single picture, statue, sculpture, carving, and other corporeal depiction presented her as a man. By assuming the exclusively male symbols of pharaonic power, Hatshepsut was asserting her claim to be King rather than the "King's Great Wife" or Queen consort. She was connecting herself to male power through what she wore and how she depicted herself. She wasn’t the first, and she wasn’t the last.

In modern history and modern politics we see women dressing like men all the time to convey to the public that they should be “taken seriously” or that they “mean business”. It was a tactic that worked, and frankly many women felt that they needed.

In What Happened Hillary Clinton writes in reference to her pantsuits "I thought it would be good to do what male politicians do and wear more or less the same thing every day.” She writes that "as a woman running for President," she liked the "visual cue" that she was "different from the men but also familiar."

It makes sense that women would dress like men in order to “belong” on Capitol Hill. From 1997–1999 there were a whopping 65 women in Congress, making the percentage of female politicians on the hill 12.3%. Wearing feminine clothes would only make a women stand out more.

Throughout that time, the few female politicians that there were followed Clinton’s lead, wearing bland jackets and boring loafers that allowed them to fit in with their male counterparts, at least sartorially. …

Things, however, are changing. The percent of women in Congress has practically doubled. Right now Congress is about 23.7% female, and while that number isn’t quite as high as many of us would like, it’s higher than it’s ever been. The 116th Congress is on track to be one of the most diverse in history in gender, race, sexuality, religion and age. A record number of women ran, and a record number of women won.

And along with these empowering landmark wins, it seems like many of the female candidates no longer feel constrained to masculine silhouettes, despite the inevitable backlash they receive from the right in doing so. While the press and public still seem fixated on what female politicians wear -- with special scrutiny afforded to women of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other underrepresented groups -- it seems that the women of politics have stopped giving a shit.

On the campaign trail Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faced intense criticism for her clothing choices, including criticism for looking too put together. Ilhan Omar had to weather attacks from the right about her choice to wear a hijab. Joe Walsh even attempted to slam Tammy Duckworth simply for taking the time to pick out a dress. And countless of other women have had to face the storm attacks on their appearance.

What we’re seeing now is a fierce celebration of femininity and individuality. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was sworn into Congress wearing a white pantsuit, a red lip, and big gold hoops. Nancy Pelosi donned dark sunglasses and a fashionable and feminine wool coat after exiting her contentious meeting with Donald Trump in December. Sharice Davids, the first Native American woman elected to Congress from Kansas, as well as the first openly LGBTQ Kansan and a former mixed martial arts fighter, showed off her muscles on election night in a stunning sleeveless red dress.

The typical “uniform” for what women have to wear in congress is changing. And let’s be clear, the media is still unhealthily obsessed with what women wear, and they continue to be fixated on outfits rather than opinions, but now female politicians aren’t letting the fear of being scrutinized stop them from wearing what they want.