Loved this Vanessa Friedman piece in last Monday’s NYTimes about Michelle Obama’s “girlie” style. The author raises such a good point: why do we have a double standard about how powerful women should dress? It’s 2015, people. I love a great business suit, but it’s not the only game in town.
As Friedman wrote, “How do you erase a stereotype? You confront it, and force others to confront their own preconceptions about it, and then you own it. And in doing so you denude it of its power.”
When I first moved to D.C., I pretty much wore suits every day. Boring suits. Boring pumps (yes, pumps). Boring pearls. I thought that to be taken seriously as a young, female professional, I had to dress the part.
Slowly, I realized that I could ditch that drab suit but still dress professionally, “cute,” and me. And that didn’t mean people wouldn’t take me seriously. On the contrary, I think that adding a splash of style and personality tended to leave more of an impression.
I was so excited when Condoleezza Rice wore knee-high boots in 2005. I thought, If the Secretary of State can get away with wearing knee boots to the office, I certainly can! But here’s the point, why did I have to “get away” with it? Condi looked great – classic, conservative suit and a nice pair of black, knee-high boots. She was showcasing her own style, and I loved it (still do!).
Madame Secretary at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield, February 23, 2005
A few years later, when the Obamas moved into the White House, I appreciated the First Lady’s independent style. One day, she ventured across the street to visit the OMB career staff, and I was so excited I wore a magenta dress inspired by her Vogue Cover (granted, my dress wasn’t Jason Wu, but I think I still looked pretty good).
I tend to speak my mind. So when Mrs. Obama shook my hand, I couldn’t help but blurt out: “This is my Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue dress!” My colleagues looked at me with horror, but the First Lady laughed and laughed and repeated, “Cover of Vogue dress!” She seemed to get a kick out of it. By the time I’d made it up ten floors to my office, the story had already made it back to my boss.
Before the handshake
My embarrassing stories aside, I agree with Ms. Friedman’s closing point: “Think of [Michelle Obama’s style] as a twist on Gloria Steinem’s wake-up call to 40: That is what a successful, well-educated woman looks like. Carnations, acacia blossoms, full skirts and all. It’s probably about time we learned.” Bring it on.