Washington Post: ‘Most women…cross their legs when sitting, but not Elena Kagan.’

By Satyam Khanna


Given that the oil spill, along with other events, has overshadowed the recent SCOTUS nomination, I was scouring my RSS for news this morning regarding Elena Kagan and stumbled upon this: “Elena Kagan goes on Supreme Court confirmation offensive in drab D.C. clothes“:

But Kagan is only 50 years old…Her style, however, makes her seem so much older. There’s little that could be described as fun, impish or creative in her dress. It’s a wholly middle-age approach to a wardrobe — if one stubbornly and inaccurately defines that transitional period in life as the beginning-of-the-end of sex appeal, effervescence and sprightliness. Kagan’s version of middle-age seems stuck in a time warp, back when 50-something did not mean Kim Cattrall or Sharon Stone, “Cougar Town” or “Sex and the City.”

Considering the fact that we *don’t know* what Elena Kagan “believes” because of her “lack” of “judicial experience,” it would be worthwhile to see more investigations into Kagan’s legal philosophy, her views on cases, etc. instead of articles about Kagan’s clothing. But Kagan is now a public figure, and I imagine the Post’s Fashion section has some constituency interested in her sense of style. Fine. But take a look at the Post’s Fashion section commenting on Sam Alito’s banal style four years ago:

Samuel Alito eschewed the more formal — and some would argue more elegant — French cuffs for the standard barrel ones. His shirts were perfectly starched. His suits were dark, sober and trim. He looked tidy but not fancy. The nominee wore nothing eye-catching. He didn’t even have an American flag pin affixed to his lapel, an accessory that has been de rigueur for anyone facing a microphone, television cameras and a row of lawmakers. Visually, Alito was as unremarkable as possible. Even the patterns on his ties, which were either a patriotic red or blue, were so subtle as not to even register unless inspected under a magnifying glass. Alito has been described as a nerd. (He took up juggling, after all.) But he mostly shook off the markers of social awkwardness or eccentricity with the simplicity and discreet tailoring of his clothes. There were no image missteps because he stuck to the basics. He didn’t look bespoke, but he looked Brooks Brothers solid.

So, to clarify, for cute nerd Sam Alito, boring clothes = “tidy” and “Brooks Brother’s solid.” For questionably heterosexual middle-aged Elena Kagan, boring clothes = “wholly middle aged” and “stuck in a time warp.”

This goes back to Jack Balkin’s point last week that the media treats SCOTUS nominee reporting in the same way they do scandals: “Newspapers obsessively look for different angles to report the story in ever new ways” and “commentators and political operatives seek dominant, easy to understand narratives that can be used to frame the situation for public consumption.” This story would appear to fall into the latter category. Apparently, we can try to infer that Kagan is “reliable and reassuring” and “very, very wise” based her choice of clothing….or the fact that she doesn’t cross her legs when she sits.

I would imagine that the real reason that Kagan, or any woman seeking higher office, has to dress in “drab” clothing is to deter attention away from her appearance and instead focus scrutiny on her intellect. Lest they risk getting an article like this in the Post’s Fashion section.