Condoleezza Rice’s Commanding Clothes

Condoleezza Rice’s Commanding Clothes (WaPo, page C1)

Photo:  Rice's black high-heel boots: As a fashion statement, absolutely powerful. 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 (1601): Ann Althouse, subbing for Glenn Reynolds, disagrees. Ace weighs in as well as does the randy Cam Edwards.

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.

Update (2009): David Wallace-Wells has picked up the story at Slate, linking this post and many of those in the post above. Technorati lists 175 results and counting for “Condi’s Boots.”

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Well, there were a bunch of comments when the President wore the (mandatory) flight suit when landing on the Lincoln.

  2. paladin says:

    This same reporter was the one who was dissing the parka and boots Dick Cheney wore at the Holocaust Memorial service. Fashion criticism of the powerful seems to be her beat at WaPo.

  3. Jim Henley says:

    This same reporter was the one who was dissing the parka and boots Dick Cheney wore at the Holocaust Memorial service. Fashion criticism of the powerful seems to be her beat at WaPo.

    Which is to say, Mr. J’s recollections are faulty. (Not that that’s any great crime. And I remember Givahn’s inaugural fashion column and she did indeed say she intended to cover the intersection of fashion and power. This is just more of what, rightly or wrongly, she does.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Robin Givhan has made a career of trashing other the way people dress, so this is just another in a long series of fashion disses.

    Actually I welcome Condi’s wearing of those boots, certainly gets my blood rushing. Next, can we have pics of her with those stiletto pumps?

  5. Mikey says:

    I thought it was more like the outfit the Secretary of State for the Sith would wear.

    Not that I’m complaining.

  6. Ralph says:

    When I saw the WaPo’s excellent photo of Condi yesterday, I too was struck by the perfect imagery, not of a “dominatrix” (? – whatever that is) but of the uniform of a Continental Army officer. Really. Add the buff facings and your not too far removed from a lady’s rendition of this classic, boots and all. — Either Mr. Givhan needs to add American Heritage to his bedside magazine stand, or I need to add something a little different to mine…?

  7. DC Loser says:

    Robin Givhan is a SHE.

  8. Ralph says:

    Thanks DCL! I stand corrected. My suggestion stands, however. An evening or two with American Heritage wouldn’t do Ms. Givhan any harm. As for me, I’m going to wipe my specs — the better to detect those pesky little lower case “s”‘s — and go review my Gray’s Anatomy…

  9. McGehee says:

    I thought it was more like the outfit the Secretary of State for the Sith would wear.

    Heh. “Darth Delicious”?

    (Did I say that out loud?)

  10. Paul says:

    Is this what passes for political commentary from the MSM?

    Geeze if a blogger writer that, some MSM goober would use it as a club to discredit blogs.

    If I read that on a blog, I’d be less than impressed and bloggers have the inherent freedom to ramble about meaningless crap.

  11. Paul says:

    ooops typo.. “if a blogger had written”

  12. Bithead says:

    What was it we were told about our reactions to Hitlery?


    Oh, yeah.

    “You just don’t like a strong woman”

    Yeah, that was it.

  13. paladin says:

    I think Condi’s outfit is sexy too, and I don’t even have a Y chromosome. In fact, I used to have a pair of boots like Condi’s, but I quit wearing them about 15 years ago. Everything old is new again. Now that I think about it, there may be a correlation with my giving up my Condi boots and my 15 year old son!

  14. GaijinBiker says:
  15. AnjinSan says:

    Nice look, kind of a neo-fascist thing…