Page Six has an odd little item up this morning about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s leisure time activities. Normally, I’d ignore it, because I’m increasingly convinced the horse-race coverage is the fiendish invention of some sort of super-villain intent on undermining our political conversation, and because, come on, it’s Page Six. But the piece, about a trip Clinton made to a clothing store, is a perfect example of how utterly impossible it is for women in public life to satisfy their critics in matters of dress and personal appearance.
“Hillary Clinton went on a private shopping spree at Bergdorf Goodman early Tuesday morning, sparking further speculation that she’s suiting up for a 2016 presidential run,” the piece says. It’s not clear whose speculative juices got flowing. Certainly Page Six doesn’t bother to do anything so mundane as quote anyone who has an actual rationale for why this proves that Hillary is selecting a wardrobe for the campaign trail, rather picking out a collection of comfortable-yet-sexy caftans for the purposes of lounging on a tropical beach like the vacationing boss she totally deserves to be. It’s as if the only possible legitimate reason a woman could have for shopping is that her clothes are in service of her career, rather than simply for her own pleasure and enjoyment.
And even within a framework of the presidential election, the Page Six item still tries to play gotcha with Clinton. Apparently, shopping at Bergdorf Goodman constitutes hypocrisy because “Hillary, a low-key dresser and the oft purveyor of the humble pantsuit, has steadfastly refused to make fashion an issue. While secretary of state, in 2010, she dressed down a moderator in Kyrgyzstan who asked, ‘Which designers do you prefer?’ Hillary responded, ‘Would you ever ask a man that question?'” Given that Hillary didn’t exactly announce that she was going shopping, much less do something like drop in at the paparazzi-surrounded boutique Kitson with the clear intention of being seen, I’m not sure what violation she’s supposed to have committed here.
Is it that she’s buying expensive clothes, which she can afford to purchase as a public citizen, but are not accessible to many of her potential constituents? Is that she’s rising to the demands of her profession and status as one of the most famous people in the world and buying clothes that can be tailored to fit her while retaining their structural integrity, and which will photograph well and stand up to the rigors of travel? The expectations are contradictory and impossible: women like Clinton are simultaneously supposed to not care about their appearance while looking impeccable at all times, not to care a whit about fashion but to have a sense of what clothes make their bodies look simultaneously attractive and appropriate to whatever occasion they’re dressing for.
If they hire stylists to make these decisions for them, freeing up their attention for, say, policy, they’re elitists. If they pick out their clothes themselves, they’re frivolous. If they try to be fashionable, they’re trying too hard, or failing to dress their ages. If they settle on a uniform, they’re dowdy and unimaginative. Sometimes, it seems like the only option that would satisfy everyone’s demands about her wardrobe is for Hillary Rodham Clinton presented herself as a disembodied floating head. But even then, we’d be stuck with a national conversation that’s now in its third decade: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hair, What Does It Mean?