Noting briefly that the 113th Congress includes historic numbers of women, the article focused on what these trailblazers’ purse choices signify about their values and status.
The biggest status symbol, according to the New York Times, is a “purse boy,” or a male aide who carries things for his female boss:
Perhaps no model of purse, however, can signify status as much as having someone willing to carry it.
When Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, represented Texas in the Senate, she had her purse trotted through the Capitol by a rotating cadre of young male aides, to some raised eyebrows.
But now some version of the so-called “purse boy” is almost commonplace.
On the first day of this session, a young male aide to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and House minority leader, juggled the coats of female members as he tried to snap a group photo. And on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, was trailed through Statuary Hall by a male staff member holding her bag.
After expertly picking her way through the crowd, Ms. Sinema turned to her aide and asked, “Do you have all of my stuff?”
Of course, all politicians, male and female, have aides who carry things for them. Most famously, President Obama relied on former basketball star Reggie Love to make sure he had everything he needed. The Times, however, praised Love as a devoted “body man” rather than an emasculated “purse boy.”
All the women interviewed for the article told the Times that their first priority was not fashion but practicality. “Frankly, my purse selection is more about utilitarian than how it looks,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
Despite this Congress’ groundbreaking number of women, female politicians continue to face questions about their fashion choices. Last week, the Washington Post centered a profile of White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler on her “fabulous shoes.” The New York Times has also interviewed female candidates about their shoes, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced intense criticism for her famous love of pantsuits and scrunchies. Clinton recently dismissed a question about what designers she wears by shooting back, “Would you ever ask a man that question?”
While scrutinizing female politicians’ fashion choices may seem relatively harmless, a recent study found that media descriptions of a woman’s appearance, whether they are praising or criticizing them, hurt her chances of winning an election.