The very idea of a pantsuit has become irrevocably linked with Hillary Clinton. Her pantsuits have been celebrated, criticized, and analyzed so much that it's starting to feel like no one had ever even heard of pants before Clinton started running for president. So in her new memoir, What Happened, Clinton addresses the public fascination with her outfits, and the literary girl detective who inspired her signature look.
"I'm not jealous of my male colleagues often," Clinton writes, "but I am when it comes to how they can just shower, shave, put on a suit, and be ready to go." After all, nearly every male politician on the face of the planet wears suits, and people rarely become alarmed by the fact that their jackets match their pants. Few think pieces are written on the significance of their suit color, or their refusal to wear skirts.
For Clinton, though, public scrutiny has forced her to justify her wardrobe choices, and well as making an extra effort with her daily appearance. "The few times I've gone out in public without makeup, it's made the news," she writes. So she's resigned herself to getting into the makeup chair daily, and dreaming of some distant future where women don't have to wear a full face of makeup every day in order to be taken seriously as human beings.
“After hair and makeup, it’s time to get dressed," Clinton writes. "Getting dressed" is no simple matter for a high profile woman in politics, however. Clinton settled on her ubiquitous pantsuit over seventeen years ago, because, well... she likes pantsuits. Also, wearing pants makes it slightly harder for misogynists to violate your personal boundaries, which is a fun added bonus:
When I ran for Senate in 2000 and President in 2008, I basically had a uniform: a simple pantsuit, often black, with a colorful shell underneath. I did this because I like pantsuits. They make me feel professional and ready to go. Plus, they helped me avoid the peril of being photographed up my skirt while sitting on a stage or climbing stairs, both of which happened to me as First Lady.
In addition to a future in which makeup is optional, let's all try to envision some beautiful, far-off future in which photographing up someone's skirt is a universally frowned upon practice.
This experience led to Clinton re-considering her whole wardrobe, and she found herself looking back to some of her favorite children's books for inspiration:
After that, I took a cue from one of my childhood heroes, Nancy Drew, who would often do her detective work in sensible trousers. “I’m glad I wore pants!” she said in The Clue of the Tapping Heels after hoisting herself up on the rafters of a building in pursuit of a rare cat.
Although Clinton does not usually spend her days in pursuit of rare cats, she's found pantsuits to be to most convenient way to dress. Her decision to wear only pantsuits is also a strategic one, putting her on the same footing as her overwhelmingly male colleagues.
"I also thought it would be good to do what male politicians do and wear more or less the same thing every day," she writes. "As a woman running for President, I liked the visual cue that I was different from the men but also familiar."
Much like Nancy Drew, Clinton wanted to ensure that her teen detective skills (or in this case, political acumen) were getting more attention than her fashion choices. "A uniform was also an antidistraction technique," she writes. "Since there wasn’t much to say or report on what I wore, maybe people would focus on what I was saying instead."
While it's true that many, many people have tried desperately to find something to say or report on with Clinton's pantsuits, she's probably right in assuming that she's dodged a lot of fashion bullets in her career. Over the years, she's tried to combine the clothes she feels the most comfortable in with the clothes that will highlight her mind and avoid the worst brunt of sexist news coverage.
Nancy would surely be proud.