Reducing the World’s Most Powerful Woman to a Dress

Thursday’s <em>Roll Call</em> story chiding the nominee for the Federal Reserve for not switching up her wardrobe is only the beginning.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Nominee for the Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen (C) leaves after her confirmation hearing November 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Yellen will be the first woman to head the Federal Reserve if confirmed by the Senate and will succeed Ben Bernanke.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
Nov. 15, 2013, 5:32 a.m.

A story on Roll Call Thursday night cast as­per­sions on Janet Yel­len, Pres­id­ent Obama’s pick to head the Fed­er­al Re­serve, for, of all things, hav­ing an in­suf­fi­ciently var­ied ward­robe. The con­sensus on Twit­ter was that such an art­icle would nev­er have been writ­ten about a man.

Ac­tu­ally it’s worse than that.

Those stor­ies have been writ­ten about men, and they’re un­fail­ingly praised for be­ing de­cis­ive lead­ers who don’t waste brain power on frivol­ous things like fash­ion. Take, for ex­ample, Obama, or Mark Zuck­er­berg, or Steve Jobs.

Obama fam­ously told Van­ity Fair that he wears only blue or gray suits. “You need to fo­cus your de­cision-mak­ing en­ergy,” he told Mi­chael Lewis. “You need to rou­tin­ize your­self.” The head­lines praised him for de­clut­ter­ing his mind and cut­ting down on “non­vital” choices. ” Barack Obama’s Secret Weapon? Routine,” read a head­line in The Guard­i­an.

Zuck­er­berg, who wore the same Face­book T-shirt al­most every day for years was lauded for sav­ing time in the morn­ing. “He’s ex­tremely busy, and pick­ing clothes takes time out of his day that could be spent do­ing oth­er things,” notes a post in The Wall Street Journ­al.

Mean­while, Steve Jobs’s de­cision to wear a black tur­tle­neck and jeans every day had him be­ing praised as a “fash­ion vis­ion­ary.” Jobs’s uni­form, ob­served one writer, “has here­to­fore seemed less like a soph­ist­ic­ated sar­tori­al choice than a savvy ex­cer­cise in per­son­al brand­ing, a sym­bol of as­cet­ic de­vo­tion to tech­no­logy.” Ac­claimed de­sign­er Ral­ph Ruc­cin­has has called it one of the most “wholly ori­gin­al” ideas in mod­ern fash­ion.

And when Ben Bernanke, Yel­len’s pre­de­cessor at the Fed, told Time in 2009 that he favored re­l­at­ively in­ex­pens­ive threads at Jos A. Bank over de­sign­er suits, he was hailed for his prag­mat­ism.

There are hun­dreds of power­ful men on Cap­it­ol Hill, and every day they wake up and put on a suit and tie. They all look the same. Day after day after day.

If you are a wo­man, the closest you can come to wear­ing a suit and tie is to wear a black dress with a fit­ted black jack­et. That is ex­actly what Yel­len was wear­ing.

Pay too much at­ten­tion to what you wear, and you be­come “a White House coun­sel known for her shoes.” Not enough, and you’re the new Fed pick who needs some new threads. Wear something wo­manly, and you’re sexu­al­ized. Wear a pant­suit, and you’re try­ing to be a man. Wear a con­ser­vat­ive black dress, and you’re fine. Un­til you wear it a second time, then you’re a head­line or a punch­line.

I’m not pick­ing on Roll Call‘s War­ren Ro­jas. I’m pick­ing on the rules of the game, rules that al­lowed the wo­man about to con­trol the world’s largest eco­nomy to be re­duced to a dress.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.