Don’t be afraid of looking pretty, Hillary

Hillary ClintonThis month’s American Vogue begins with a letter by the editor, Anna Wintour, about Hillary Clinton dropping out of a cover photoshoot.

Wintour writes that she found it “amazing” that “our only female presidential hopeful had decided to steer clear of our pages – for fear of looking too feminine. The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously is frankly dismaying. This is America, not Saudi Arabia.”

She goes on: “I do think Americans have moved on from the power-suit mentality, which served as a bridge for a generation of women to reach boardrooms filled with men.” Way to go, Anna! Full disclosure: I work for the same company, but she is right.

Long ago I threw out my office suits in exchange for pretty clothes that I’d actually want to look at myself in and decided this would more than suffice for my “formal attire”. It turned out to be costeffective-I could take myself out to dinner in my cute little dress and cardigan or Jackie O-style shift rather than feeling like the frump who hasn’t had time to change into “evening clothes”.

I’ve faced down many suited men in my Ralph Lauren sundress or Lela Rose jacket and skirt, and found that my appearance brings a smile to the formerly stern faces of my defensive interviewees. I am the human equivalent of the much-needed floral arrangement on their boardroom table. They are glad to have you. You are glad to be there. All ingredients necessary for a successful interview.

Of course, you want to look elegant, not available. Several years ago I arrived for lunch in a silk black-and-white dress to face a very famous banker, who looked at me, picked up his cell phone and said: “Push the helicopter back to 3.30.” For a nanosecond I was alarmed but the gentleman – and his wife – have become friends and mentors, thanks largely to that first, very long interview.

Interestingly, the only frosty reaction I’ve had to my appearance is from women who think they need to wear their brains on their bodies. You know the type: every other sentence a quote from a Harvard business school study. They hate women who dress like women. Maybe that’s what Hillary was afraid of. Maybe that’s who she is.

But even worse than her decision to pull out was the way she did it: leaving the photographer and writer hanging. No matter what you’re wearing, that’s just rude – and definitely not presidential.V

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