Fashion Bytes

On Friday, The Guardian featured an article about Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, which opened with the line “Rarely has  Birkin brought so much attention…”.  The media has a notoriously short memory, having forgotten about the furor which erupted when Martha Stewart brought the same bag to her internal trading trial in 2004.

The Guardian piece then goes on to mention that Khar was in India for a political meeting which carried quite a lot of weight for the two countries, but the quips about her media popularity and fashion choices did not stay away for long.  There is even a  paragraph which describes Khar going through a stack of papers discussing her wardrobe, commenting, “A guy in my place would never get such attention; nobody would be talking about his suit”.

Khar hits the nail on the head.  During the Clinton presidency in the 1990s, the media had a field day with Hilary Clinton’s hair, which continues to be discussed today.  During the 2008 election there was a huge scandal over the amount of money spent on Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe, but I don’t recall ever hearing a single word about how much McCain spent on his.

Why is it that women politicians’ clothing is more likely to be discussed than their policies?  Or just women in power.  Returning to the Martha Stewart incident referenced above, was there any discussion at all about Bernie Madoff’s attire during his trial?

Is this a sexist holdover equating fashion with frivolity, subtly undermining powerful women’s importance and relegating them to the sidelines?  Or is it simply because women have more flexibility with their clothing, resulting in greater opportunity for discussion?  Is there a less obvious form of sexism going on in that women who are bold in their fashion choices still retain their positions, while men in politics are forced to conform? Do you think that a male politician “experimenting” with clothing by wearing, say, a vintage suit would hurt or help his public image?

The emphasis on the western brands Khar chooses to wear (Hermes, Cavalli…), also seems to suggest that the media is uncomfortable with her attire as a challenge to their usual perceptions and portrayals of muslim women.  As previously discussed here on Fashion Bytes, the media seems to think that the only way for a woman to be fashionable or liberated is in accordance with a western ideal of beauty and fashion.  In my piece on the Iranian women’s soccer team, I mentioned that the demand that muslim women to comply with European or American ideas of sartorial freedom is highly unfair.  Do you think that Khar is finding the balance between that freedom of dress and compliance with her faith’s rules regarding clothing and modesty?

Please share your thoughts.

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    August 21, 2012 - 5:00 am

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