A Girl’s Got the Gavel! But What’s She Wearing?

Despite being an accomplished, powerful woman, some members of the press still can't get over the fact that she's, you know, a girl.

Here we were, wishfully thinking that the appearance of a certain New York Times’ Thursday Style article last week (“Speaking Chic to Power”) heralded the end, as a Times’ Style piece often does, of a tired development — the development, in this case, being Nancy Pelosi’s Wardrobe as News. (See earlier reports, including: “She’ll Have to Turn the Other Chic” New York Daily News January 5; “Well Suited: With Speaker’s High Profile, Her Wardrobe Could Get as Much Attention as Her Words,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 5; “Suited For Politics; As Nancy Pelosi Becomes Speaker of the House, She’s Already Winning Votes For Her Fashion Sense,” Baltimore Sun, January 4; and, of course, Robin Givhan’s contribution in the Washington Post from back in November, “Muted Tones of Quiet Authority; A Look Suited to the Speaker”).

Silly us. We’d forgotten about television news, where — with hours of air time to fill and anchors apparently willing to say just about anything that crosses their minds in order to fill those hours —- the Pelosi-focused wardrobe analysis persists. Not content to leave this type of assessment to the ladies of print and their “Living” and “Style” sections, the men of network and cable news got into the game last night, inspired, it seems, by Pelosi’s unavoidable presence alongside Vice President Cheney at the State of the Union address.

As President Bush settled in at the podium and the applause continued unabated, ABC’s Charles Gibson, grasping for filler, informed viewers that he and George Stephanapoulos “were kidding Speaker Pelosi and the vice president as to how they coordinated what they would wear.” Over on Fox News, after explaining how “the Speaker of the House for the first time in history [is] a woman, Nancy Pelosi,” Britt Hume shared this bit of information he shoe-leathered up earlier that day: “That is a different outfit than [Pelosi] had on earlier. A group of us had a chance to talk to her earlier. I asked if she was going to wear the same outfit. She said she intended to but she spilled chocolate on the jacket. So she changed into what looks like mint green.”

On MSNBC, Eugene Robinson explained how this State of the Union speech was “different from every other State of the Union speech you’ve ever seen because instead of two dour white guys looming above the president, Denny Hastert and Dick Cheney, you still had Dick Cheney but you had Nancy Pelosi who looked smashing in that mint green or I’m not sure how to describe the color of the suit. Looking terrific, and it just really felt like, you know, a page had turned in America.” (Yes, we’ve really turned a page —now we’re Speaking Chic to Power! ) And Robinson shared this exchange with Chris Matthews a bit later — after all, Pelosi wasn’t the only powerful lady on the House floor:

Matthews: “Did you notice [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice? She can be delightful when you meet her…she looked like a mummy tonight. Did you notice that? She looked dead. Maybe she’s been on a long trip, but she looked miserable tonight.”

Robinson: “[She was] dressed in black and looked as if she were in a mood…”

According to Tim Russert, also on MSNBC: “Americans were tuning in tonight…to see Nancy Pelosi, a new speaker, a woman sitting back there. Even Dick Cheney remarked how different it was going to be sitting next to her as opposed to Dennis Hastert.” Chris Matthews chimed in that “the competition is getting fierce for glamour” while Russert added, with a hint of nostalgia, that he “always wondered what [Dick and Denny] did when they sat back there, sharing some chicken wings or something.” (Party’s over! Do women even eat wings?)

In fairness, we might consider that perhaps Pelosi brought this chatter on herself, appearing on the dais in a pale green skirt suit and thereby breaking one of “The Rules of Power Dressing” — “Don’t opt for pastel colors; they do not photograph well” — as laid out in the abovementioned Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece about how “suited” Pelosi is for politics.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.