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Should a Woman Dress Like a Man?

January 21, 2008 7:41 PM

KateBosworthVogue.bmpIn the hot-off-the-press February issue of Vogue magazine, editor in chief Anna Wintour writes:

Imagine my amazement, when I learned that Hillary Clinton, our only female president hopeful, had decided to steer clear of our pages at this point in her campaign for fear of looking too feminine. The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying. How has our culture come to this?

This is America, not Saudi Arabia. It's also 2008: Margaret Thatcher may have looked terrific in a blue power suit, but that was 20 years ago. I do think Americans have moved on from the power-suit mentality, which served as a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms filled with men. Political campaigns that do not recognize this are making a serious misjudgment.

While that's Wintour's take, we want to know your thoughts. Should Hillary Clinton have worried that a photo spread in Vogue would make her appear "too feminine?" What do you think about Wintour's assessment that our country has "moved on from the power-suit mentality" toward women? You're in the trenches, not in the fashion world's ivory tower, so tell us what you think.

Comments (21)

Yes they should and not they should not ....
But can we look at a larger picture; a wider vision? To go beyond clothes and attire and all of which surrounds ..... Let's take a the "look" of a Judge for instance. Think deeply on why they dress as they do. Why the unisex robe? Why the wig in the past? Somewhat unisex? The answer is: "To diminish those factors and concentrate on the task at hand'" We must minimize Wealth, Race, Gender, and Beauty in Justice. Can we do this in other places? Can we minimize the equitable influences all of them have on decisions and behavior? I hope so because millions voted for Sarah Palin, Hillary, John Edwards or Ronald Reagan simply based on looks and not issues ...... Many people vote their eyes and heart not brain. If they are lawmakers are they not then a little like a Judge?

YES! Hillary should have appeared on the pages of Vogue. The "robot style" pantsuits she wears are not power suits. They say follower, not leader. As a corporate image consultant, I tell my female clients to ditch any suit with a blazer jacket that looks like "daddy's jacket,” especially those that are extra long (like Hillary’s). There is a better way to camouflage figure flaws!

Women need to level the playing field in politics and the corporate arena. Men are taller, have broader shoulders ("to carry the weight of the world") and deeper voices, so they are generally accorded more credibility and responsibility. Obama towers over Hillary, and when they are alongside each other, she looks like a “little lady.” She needs to outshine him in presence and increase her stature by using image tools. The closest she ever came to it was when she wore the red jacket, and her whole persona shined bright.

The most powerful look a woman can adopt is a high-fashion, dynamic look. This means wearing skirted suits in power colors with bold accessories and heels (plain pumps, and 2-inch heels will do), professional makeup, and having a polished-looking hair style. Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice are good examples, and if you saw the recent Wall St. Journal article (January 24), you would have noticed that these two women made the other “world leaders” look frumpy and robot-like.

Pantsuits are a cop-out for laziness; you don’t have to shave your legs or wear high heels and can slouch around more readily. When you feel good about who you are and what you do, you want to shout it to the world by looking like a dynamic go-getter, not one who takes the safe route. Hillary’s current look is that of the woman who has made it through the glass ceiling and guards her spot jealously. It is a stern, severe look. The image I suggest is a “get on my team and let’s all go through the glass ceiling.” It is a high-fashion but friendly look, not a severe look. Stern looks cause men to get on the defensive.

I have forwarded this article (and blogged it) to several people I am doing professional headshots to use in their web profiles. How you dress on-line can be just as important in some fields as in-person!

As a women's suiting store owner in LA, www.thesuitcloset.com, I would have to say my answer is three-fold. First, Hilary should not have turned down Vogue because she could have tapped a new voter market. She could have worn a great suit and in fact, showed the world she has a feminine side. She's a beautiful woman with a great figure who happens to wear suits well. What's ironic is she will cry on TV but not do Vogue?! Second, I think Hilary is smart for not wanting to appear too feminine because frankly, she's playing the game she needs to play. The fact is she is going up against all men. She knows that if she stands at her podium looking like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, she's going to get the same reaction her character experienced - lack of seriousness and ridicule. However, she will need a wardrobe makeover once she wins the election. Finally, women's suiting today is nothing like it once was - a "mannish" suit. Suiting for women has answered it's calling -femininity, flair, fashion-forward and color! We now have the tailored, svelt suiting available to us. What has not changed and never will is what a suit stands for. A suit will always portray completeness, professionalism, seriousness and confidence. I think it's ridiculous how out-of-control the business casual look as gotten. In fact, many managers/business owners feel the same which is why businesses are going back to the suit dresscode. I always like to say, "a suit is the only thing in your closet that will make you money" -think about it!

In all fairness, this is the Vogue editor's take on Clinton's reason for declining a photo shoot. I would have found a direct quote more meaningful for us to debate. Perhaps she had seen the clothes planned for her and decided they were not an appropriate image. Perhaps Clinton wanted to ensure a serious approach to the layout that would not be guaranteed.

Had I been in her shoes (and obviously am not), I would have negotiated for something that would have made a statement about the double-standard by which women are held -- you bet the men would jump on a GQ opportunity, but they will never have to worry about unleashing a firestorm of controversy as a woman would for appearing in a "woman's fashion magazine."

The fact that we are even discussing this and men are quite likely NOT discussing whether Obama should or should not be in a fashion spread speaks volumes that, despite the editor's assertion that we are in a new era, we are not in as progressive an era as the editor thinks we are.

The spread I'd have opted for would not have praised or condemned a fashion focus, but simply demonstrated that the power within a woman is comfortable in whatever it wears and should be given its due respect accordingly.

We don't know what Vogue's approach to Clinton was, do we? Perhaps had it been what I suggested in the above paragraph, they'd have had a different reaction.

I'm looking at this purely from a PR perspective and voter outreach. But it's already time for us to move on since the decision is made and talk about how the candidates will address obstacles to economic self-sufficiency for women, family health care, transparency in government, etc. Otherwise, we are engaging in the low-level debate that Clinton perhaps wanted to avoid by declining the magazine's offer.

she cried on camera to appear more feminine, but wont appear in vogue? all this coming from the woman who said she's not the type to bake cupcakes for her daughter. what did you expect?

I think it still boils down to your job title and the industry you work in. If it's serious business like finance, banking, investments, etc. your client base expects a more formal approach to your attire. I recently met with a bank manager to go over my account and was taken aback by his appearance -- pierced nose, slouchy holey jeans and a baggy shirt. No suit, no tie. I had trouble taking him seriously. Now had I been at an ad agency, I would have expected it!

I'd say the position of president of the United States is serious business, so Hillary's decision makes sense to me.


I am disappointed with Hillary; somehow I think Bill is really pulling the strings here.

She completely missed the point, since showing her femininity would soften the effect of her debate tactics last night.

I agree with the women above who recognize Vogue as an opportunity to reach the women voters! (You know the ones who made a difference after hearing Hillary's voice crack?) You can bet that Obama's crew jumped at the chance in August 07 to be on the cover of GQ. The other Clinton (and Gore) was on the cover of GQ as running mates in November 1992. It’s simply another vehicle. As a woman living, working, and volunteering in the trenches of the politically charged D.C. metro area - I think Hillary should have gone for it! She is strong enough and bright enough. Sure the water-cooler’s would have been a buzz – but it would have – could have - shown a new dimension to MS. Clinton’s character. With the right stylist, it would have been great. I am not suggesting that the Senator don a ballet dress (a la S.J. Parker), or a JLo navel cut D& G – but fashion is not dead in D.C.! All in all, she would have a much greater ROI with Vogue than the negative campaigning & toe-to-toe bickering with Obama.

Generally speaking, a woman (or a man for that matter) should dress in what they feel comfortable wearing. As in the fashion world, "embrace it", whatever you have. In my twenties to make sure I was taken seriously, I went from a blonde, long eye lashed sweetheart to a three piece suit brown hair in a knot and added some large hornrim glasses with my large briefcase to make sure I was taken seriously. Three weeks after I had met my neighbor (whom I married), my makeup was done professionally, my hair cut and styled and my signature look was too tight french jeans and t-shirts. Meanwhile, when my husband met me, he said I was gorgeous with no makeup, no hair style, and men's suits; maybe it was the Ralph Lauren pink tie that I added to the grey and white pin stripes. (I do love fashion as it keeps accounting and finance from being boring, even if I am not on the big stage).

Times change and from my perspective, one should change too. Right now I feel comfortable in a nice fresh shirt and slacks or skirt, depending on the weather, but I am back to wearing my hair up with one clip close to the head, sort of like the "guys" or from my perspective, like an olympic swimmer.

Young and just out of college women seem to be able to change around as much as a model from Tyra Banks and seem to look great in anything. I don't see them wearing blazers and plain blouses as they have had enough of uniforms in their early school years.

Remember the old designers used to wear a plain black outfit so as not to distract. When I was a tiny child I remember persons pointing out "Edith Head" who had designed so much beautiful apparel.

Meanwhile, Judith and Rudy Giuliani looked darling in the NY Post yesterday and I do appreciate the fashion sense of those who take it seriously.

Frankly, until I met my husband, I did not trust what personal interest persons had in me: it appeared to be that I was an easy target to flirt with, or a wall flower to cheer up. So it was rare that I wanted to "strut my stuff" so to speak.

Now, as they say on Project Runway, "Make it Work" whatever it is; basically, it comes from the inside and not from the outside. Since beauty and fashion is a commodity especially in New York, no one actually fools a trained eye so one has no choice but to own it. Statistically speaking, project whatever you are trying to project, even if it may be to "blend in" and the confidence will be present.

President Bush wears his clothes well and so does Laura Bush.

As a person who owns my own virtual office assistant home business, I don't have to get dressed up or dressed any way in particular but I certainly do when I go out anywhere. Not in a power suit but certainly nicely. You never know where a casual contact may lead to a business deal so I believe we should always look our best but still feminine. No awful looking power suits here. :}

I personally think Hillary was wrong for declining to appear in Vogue and NO, women do not have to dress in a mannish fashion to be taken seriously. I think Vouue is a very forward thinking magazine and Hilary missed out on reaching alot of intelligent women to like to look nice. I believe in dressing professional, but you don't have to wear a skirt or mannly power suit to do that.

If a candidate is serious about an election, he or she should take every opportunity to reach the voters. Vogue’s audience is primarily women. Do women not still out number men in our global society? Seems like a bad marketing decision in my opinion. A better marketing strategy for a for too long.female Presidential candidate would be to embrace the fact that she is female. Celebrate with the rest of the country that we finally have a female in this position. Realize that she is a role model to inspire the present and future generations of women to aspire to the peaks of their potentials. Embrace feminity as the powerful force that it is and that has been suppressed

Hilary Clinton is a seasoned professional with a slew of credentials and accomplishments. To appear on the cover of Vogue (or Playboy for that matter) in a sophisticated suit (not dowdy like she typically wears) would not have diminished any of her attributes because I don't objectify her.

Her refusal to appear does makes me question her comfort level with herself. To even suggest that looking "too feminine" on the cover of Vogue (given all that she's accomplished as a professional) doesn't give me confidence in her ability to demand respect regardless of what publication she's featured in. She also missed an opportunity to share her experiences with a potentially new voter market...

Unfortunately, I think that in order for her to be taken seriously by most men and many women, she needs to take that approach. There is STILL that stereotype that "feminine" women are weak or too emotional to handle a job that important. Well hopefully when she does get the job, she will start wearing more female-appealing attire.

Women should not be afraid to be feminine. If a woman carries her femininity well, she is powerful. I say, go for the power suit, but make it feminine. I have a lovely navy suit that accentuates (without flaunting) my curves and yet makes a point. I pair it with a scarf and carry myself with poise.

Although I'm not a fan of Hillary, I think she made the right call. There are many places where women can dress as they will but you are delusional if you think women have broken the through the men's club. They remain to be judged in a very harsh way (maybe not out loud but listen to the water-cooler talk). We are also talking about a women running in a race that needs to exemplify she has leadership abilities and to stay focused she has to run a conservative profile. It maybe there are more companies that hold a laid back position on appearance but middle america remains conservative and they are more in mass. But hey, let's not stereo-type, if vogue wants readers to know about Hillary, why not profile all the candidates in an unbiased fashion - gender bending should apply on all fronts.

I'd like to believe that Hillary wanted to steer clear of Vogue not for appearing "too feminine" but because she didn't want to betray her working class image with a bourgeois image. Vogue is, after all a women's fashion magazine.
However, her choice of words is off putting. Maybe instead of shunning her femininity, she should embrace it. This kind of thinking about all that it means to be a woman is allowing us to do more harm to ourselves than society or the media ever could.

Regardless of what day and age it is. I think as a woman no matter what we wear we should be taken seriously. In the Business world we dress in a business wear to get the job done. The clothes does not make us. We do.There should never be a stereotyped about our clothes. Although, I would never put it to pass because we are stereotyped by so much. Because we are women yes we are human but that does not give you the right to discrimnate me because of clothes , age, etc, etc. The thing is that we as women have done so much and we are growing together to be successful as we can. It is our time and it always have been. I would not discrimnate a man for his character or his job description or whatsoever.So I say stand tall, stand firm, and don't let this get to us. I feel great that Hilary is in the running for president. There are alot of men that think our character is weak, we can't handle the tough situations but remember we give birth, we handle being single moms,working and taken care of household plus many many more. So I take my hat off and toss it in the air to us. We as women. We are God's children.

While I don't think Hillary or any other woman has to dress in a mannish power suit anymore, I agree with her decision not to appear in Vogue. I don't think she would have been thought too feminine, but I do think she would have been thought too frivolous. Fashion, especially in the pages of fashion-foward Vogue that has cutting-edge, outre designs, is thought to be, especially by middle-America, too far out.

Maybe it wasn't for fearing of looking "too feminine" that Hillary declined a Vogue spot---it was perhaps that Vogue is a fashion magazine. Not enough gravitas for a potential leader of the free world. That's my guess.

In Seattle, for sure, women are not hampered by a power suit mentality. Heck, we rarely wear anything more formal than a fleece hoodie and sweatpants! Which is sad, actually. I like to see people dressed up. But not in power suits. They make you look as if you have no imagination.

Back in the day, though, I had a navy blue power suit I just loved. Whenever I wore it, I felt completely in control.

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