It’s 8pm and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is still hammering out details on a war spending package; her hair still neat and 2 piece business suit still without a wrinkle, she heads to the floor of the house to speak with Steny Hoyer, second in command of the Democratic leadership in the House. Second only behind Pelosi herself. She has a quick conversation with Hoyer, shares “face time” with John Boehner, minority leader of the opposition party, heads to her office for an equally quick change and gets ready to board a plane to Syria while planning with her stylist and team what she will be wearing for the trip.
The preceding timeline was an imagining of what a schedule would be like for the most powerful woman in the United States. Keeping in mind that somewhere in there there is some truth. Pelosi is going to Syria to meet with what some in the government call one of our enemies – and what will she be wearing? According to AFP, in Saudi Arabia Pelosi wore
“..pistachio green pantsuit in a country where only foreign dignitaries are exempted from the abaya…”
The devil is in the details. While one can make the argument that her wardrobe is of little consequence in such a ground-breaking setting (Saudi Arabia’s all-male advisory council – the equivalent to our House of Representatives), the details matter. In Saudi Arabia, Pelosi sat in the chair of the Speaker of the advisory council and wore the pantsuit because she arrived as a foreign dignitary. Women must normally wear the long black cloak, abaya, that covers them from head to toe.
The details matter.
6 months ago the Speaker of the House was Dennis Hastert and for nearly 200 years the Speaker of the House has been a male with nary a mention of their wardrobe except in cases where the outlandish took shape. With a woman as 3rd in line to succeed the President should something happen and with Democratic Presidential front runner being a woman, Hillary Clinton and with women in positions of power all over the US, such as Indra K. Nooyi (President of Pepsi), Oprah Winfrey (owner of Harpo Productions), Angela Merkel chancellor of Germany, Segolene Royale Presidential front runner in France and many more; the staid grey world of power has been replaced with a heterogenous mixing of color, style and substance.
The dress of professional female leaders matter for more than simple table conversations. They are making as much of a statement as the man who refuses to wear a tie with his suit, or the male politican who chooses to put on construction boots with his suit to show solidarity with soldiers.
In an article entitled Speaking Chic to Power in the New York Times, writer Lizette Alvarex remarks, “Women in politics are the first to say that they give serious thought to their appearance because, like it or not, voters at home, powerbrokers on the Hill and the news media are all mindful of the slightest faux pas.” She goes on to quote a female member of the House of Representatives who says ‘As women policy makers become more trusted on the issues, they may feel there is more leeway,’ Alvarez later facetiously remarks that the representative quoted was reprimanded apparently by her constitutents for lightening her hair.
With more women ascending to positions of power both politically and in the business world, they are tasked with an interesting quandry. They must look professional without being seen as dowdy. They must look serious without being seen as sexy. They must evoke a sense of style and grace without being seen as excessive. Walking that fine line means working with stylists and other handlers who understand the needs of a leader who’s dress decisions can unfortunately decide whether she gets another chance in her position or ascends to a greater one. It’s the difference between being third in line for the Presidency or not.
Back in Saudi Arabia, Nancy Pelosi’s pistachio green suit is creating waves among the women in black that her as a leader that is not so far from their own ambitions in the not too distant future.