It’s OK to Talk About How Women Dress

By Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo

The Atlantic Wire asks “is it defensible, in this day and age (day: Tuesday; age: the 21st century) for an established news organization to put forth a 3-page article on how newswomen dress?”

Yes, as they point out, depending on how you do it. They’re referring to a Washington Post article titled “The New Powerlessness of the Evening Newswoman (or at Least Her Outfit)“, where they discuss the outfit choices of Diane Swayer and Barbara Walters, among others. But both the Post‘s and the Atlantic‘s articles miss the point. It’s not bad to discuss how newswomen dress; the way people dress and have been doing so for hundreds of thousands of years is interesting and complex and filled with meaning. And in the current state of affairs men’s clothing is mostly boring and has hardly changed in like 80 years (minus a few subtleties –what, ties?). There’s so much more variety in color, shape, texture, form, cut. If we’re going to dissect the suit choices of Anderson Cooper and Jorge Ramos, then the conversation will unfortunately be rather short. This is lamentable; many men are missing out on a form of self-expression you can take part in every day and that can be fun and fulfilling.

I’m also for not giving a shit if a woman doesn’t want to put time into her dress –that’s her decision, and just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she should care about these things. If she wants to put that time into other outlets of expression, artistic or not, then awesome. The opposite also goes for men — if a guy wants to put time and care into his wardrobe, and doesn’t care if that’s seen as feminine, then also awesome. But I don’t think we should pretend that we’re blind and that women’s clothing, as of now, isn’t more visually engaging, meaningful and, for some, worthy of discussion.

There is also the issue of how the media talk about talking about fashion, for men and women. If we compare this newswomen fashion piece to, say, Richard Cohen on the deathless appeal of men who know how to send out an expensive suit for dry cleaning, we find a world of difference. Though it’s only one line in a piece about how sex appeal wasn’t about muscles but about confidence in men like Humprey Bogart and Cary Grant, Cohen is supposed to be bold because he notices men’s dress choices, whereas if someone discusses the dress choices of newswomen, that’s frivolous and sexist.

What is also telling is that Cohen’s piece is about sex appeal, but there’s not much discussion about what the men wear or about their bodies, which is interesting in itself — the same, I think, would not be true about an article on women’s sex appeal.

The Atlantic article at least wasn’t characterizing women as frivolous. It was criticizing the media for being sexist and worrying about women’s fashion (though somewhat convolutedly). It opens and closes with the same trite idea: “Sometimes clothes are just clothes. The best article about female empowerment in the newsroom or out of it would not, I dare say, need mention them at all.” That’s unrealistic. And dismissing fashion as a frivolous subject, because it’s a “woman thing”, is what is at a culturally subconscious level most sexist of all.

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