Condoleezza Rice’s Commanding Clothes
Condoleezza Rice’s Commanding Clothes (WaPo, page C1)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black. She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf. The coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine’s dress uniform or the “save humanity” ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.” As Rice walked out to greet the troops, the coat blew open in a rather swashbuckling way to reveal the top of a pair of knee-high boots. The boots had a high, slender heel that is not particularly practical. But it is a popular silhouette because it tends to elongate and flatter the leg. In short, the boots are sexy.
Rice boldly eschewed the typical fare chosen by powerful American women on the world stage. She was not wearing a bland suit with a loose-fitting skirt and short boxy jacket with a pair of sensible pumps. She did not cloak her power in photogenic hues, a feminine brooch and a non-threatening aesthetic. Rice looked as though she was prepared to talk tough, knock heads and do a freeze-frame “Matrix” jump kick if necessary. Who wouldn’t give her ensemble a double take — all the while hoping not to rub her the wrong way?
Rice’s coat and boots speak of sex and power — such a volatile combination, and one that in political circles rarely leads to anything but scandal. When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix! It is as though sex and power can only co-exist in a fantasy. When a woman combines them in the real world, stubborn stereotypes have her power devolving into a form that is purely sexual.
Methinks this column says more about WaPo, or at least Robin Givhan, than Rice. It looks like a fairly practical, woman’s winter dress outfit to me. Madelyn Albright, the only other woman to hold this office, was older and less athletic, so she tended to wear frumpier outfits with those giant pins attached at the shoulder.
Aside from making fun of Al Gore’s infamous Earth tones, though, I can’t recall major media coverage of the fashion choices of male authority figures. One can’t imagine, for example, a discussion of the sexual connotations of President Bush attired in western wear at the ranch.
Update (1153): Several commenters note counterexamples, including two (Bush’s flight suit and Cheney’s parka) that I’ve discussed here. Fair enough. Still, I’d say this is of a difference piece. The sexuality nonsense, especially the odd Dominatrix angle, strikes me as not the stuff of a serious newspaper.
Update (1634): Michelle Malkin observes that, “Black is also the color of suits that travel well.” She also has a rather extensive roundup of other reactions.