Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina primary Saturday 3-to-1 over her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, and all I could think about was her black-and-white Chanel-style bouclé jacket accented by a gumball pearl choker.
I thought about it so admiringly that I wore a similar jacket and pearls to church Sunday.
I could claim professional interest as a lifestyle magazine editor. I could deconstruct the message of this classic Chanel look, which is ultra feminine but says “Don’t mess with me.” But neither would come close to the truth. Even though Clinton has achieved what Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic of The New York Times, has termed a kind of neutrality of dress on the campaign trail, people like me who crave substance and understand her to be a woman of substance still notice what she wears. (You can imagine what The Donald – he of the scale of 1-to-10 for rating women – notices.)
It isn’t just Clinton. Watching Gwen Ifill on “PBS Newshour” and “Washington Week,” I couldn’t help but note that she’s sporting a sleeker hairstyle these days that’s most becoming.
Why are we – why am I – so taken with women’s looks? I think it’s because women remain the primary symbols of beauty in culture. And a stiff price they pay for it, too. Witness Ugandan-born model Aamito Lagum, whose voluptuous lips became the subject of racist comments after MAC Cosmestics posted a picture of her in profile, sporting a purple lipstick, on Instagram. Meanwhile, Oscar host Chris Rock chided actresses for finding sexism in reporters asking them about their red carpet looks.
It’s because they all dress differently, he implied. If George Clooney wore a lime green suit with a swan coming out of his butt, Rock added, he’d be asked what he was wearing, too.
I have long suggested that if women are serious about moving beyond their looks (as in the so-called “Ask Her More” Oscar red-carpet campaign), then they should lobby for men to become the primary sex symbols in our culture. But women have achieved a certain status through their looks – a two-edged sword that they are nonetheless loathed to relinquish.
Better for both sexes if their appearances became part of the integrated whole of their personalities.
Lime-green suits and all.