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.

National Journal
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.

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