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Clothes make the non-man

vastleft's picture

"Nixon in a pant suit" is an anti-Hillary meme that Andrew Sullivan, longtime stalwart of Tricky Dick's party, has successfully propagated. And James Wolcott, with presumably better intentions, has followed, um, suit.

Google this:

hillary pantsuit OR "pant suit" OR "pantsuits" OR "pant suits"

By last count, there are over 300,000 web pages referencing this candidate and garment choice.

What does this fixation with "pant suits" mean?

1. The candidate who wears them is a woman
2. The candidate who wears them isn't sexy and chic

One more strike and you're out. So, gratuitously throw in "Nixon," and it's hasta la vista, baby.

Sure, I wanted universal health care, genuine concern for the poor and middle class, resiliency, and a repudiation of the Reagan Revolution.

But not if it has to come in that pant-suited package! Anything but that!

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zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

They're now standard business attire, but not so long ago -- 10 years, in fact -- they were not permitted in many office environments, particularly law, banking, finance and government.

It was a big issue in my first job as a lawyer; the female attorneys were not allowed to wear pants, at least not until one of the female partners said fuck it and let the female associates know that she'd just gone shopping for pantsuits. The next day, several women came in wearing pants. It was kind of an act of rebellion.

Shortly thereafter, we got casual Friday, too. Unfortunately, I wasn't making all that much and couldn't afford to replace all my skirt suits. Plus, it was still a no-no then to wear them in court (at least until female judges started wearing pants -- I remember being at a four-day preliminary injunction hearing in front of Kimba Wood, and my colleague and I got very excited to catch sight of pant legs coming out of her robe when she took the bench. We started wearing pants after that).

I think, though, that there's some lingering connotation of tackiness, left over from the polyester pantsuits of the 70s, which I'm sure is behind at least some of the sneering.

leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

Except that Wolcott wasn't following suit, though that's a nice verbal irony I enjoyed. I don't think we have to presume his better intentions; he was clearly exposing the Sullivan craziness to a wider audience.

Wolcott used to be very much of the village elders, except that he actually knew something about films and TV, was genuinely witty, had a genuine eye for satire, and was vaguely liberal, by which I mean, wasn't clearly a tool of the right, like so-called liberals like Howard Fineman, for one example.

But he sniffed at both Clintons during the nineties. I can give an example if anyone is interested.

Then 9/11, he got sucked in - but then he realized what was going on, and it truly changed Wolcott - his eye, his wit, and his unleashed passion for taking politics seriously, along with democratic governance, was directed at the right, and the SCLM, exclusively. He started showing up in the comment threads of insurgent blogs like Eschaton, when Atrios was still an unpaid amateur. Clearly, he still takes blogs seriously.

And besides that, he's almost the only member of the NY punditocracy who ever writes intelligently about the arts and especially dance, which is one of my passions, who isn't a dance critic. True, his wife is a dance critic, but Wolcott knows his stuff.

The effect of the Reagan revolution on the arts is a story that still needs to be told.

But I do love your formulation of rejecting Hillary's pantsuits as a package for even the best of the liberal regime we all are supposed to crave.

Oh, while we're on this topic, I saw a truly eye-popping comment on the eye-popping thread to Jack Tapper's attempt make a legitimate political story out of the tragic death of Eight Belles, the filly who took second place at the Derby and then collapsed, with broken ankles, was the explanation as of last night, a filly whom Hillary had said she was betting on to win. Oh the humanity, oh the inhuman irony....Someone noted that Hillary would never break her ankles, and thus, regrettably, never have to be euthanized, because her ankles are to thick, hence the pantsuit. There were many such comments, most of them poorly informed and poorly reasoned, and yes, the pro-Obama ones were the worst, although there was a subset of anti-horse-racing opponents, at least at that moment they were, which were similarly crude.

I had the impression that most of them had never been near a horse, or maybe even an animal of any kind, but that didn't still their passion to protect those poor horses, and attack the owners and trainers of the dead horse, whom none of them could imagine, apparently, were in mourning.

In this first decade of the 21st century, that's become quite the thing, hasn't it - attacking people who have just suffered a devastating loss not of their own making, within hours of the event?

I think it started with the Paul Wellstone memorial service.

I'm not supplying the link to the ABC article, (think anyone curious can find it at Memeorandum), because reading it, the Oedipal possibility of putting one's eyes out began no longer to seem all that terrifying a possibility.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Even with better intentions, Wolcott used the term as if it had some legitimacy, and thus it's gained new life as a meme. It is in that sense that he's followed suit (as a propag8r, if not as a h8r).

I hadn't even heard the HRC filly quote, but as soon as I heard about that poor horse, I knew people would start making you-know-what out of that analogy.

Digby was on top of that at the outset, and it's sad but predictable that our charming fellow Democrats couldn't resist.

Submitted by lambert on

... when you fall down.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Violet Socks's picture
Submitted by Violet Socks on

I know he's a Hillary supporter, but the article is disappointing. He makes the same sexist mistakes so many men (and young women) are making in this race.

First of all he assumes Hillary is fundamentally uncharismatic. "Nixon in a pantsuit" is predicated on the unconscious assumption that a mature woman cannot possibly be inspiring to anyone, no matter how brilliant and powerful she is. No, instead she's Nixon, who to my generation is Exhibit A in the gallery of grim American politicians (Bobby Kennedy said he represented "the dark side of the American character").

And notice that after quoting Alegre's frustrated denunciation of the outrageous misogyny online, he says it all sounds rather silly and what people are really upset about is Bush-Cheney. No. Sorry. What people are really upset about is exactly what Alegre said: the relentless misogynistic dismissal of Hillary and her supporters.

Sexism is the story of this election year. The fact that so many otherwise intelligent people are utterly insensible to the problem is an indicator of how deeply rooted it still is.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

weren't sex kittens. Neither is Hillary, nor Chelsea. From my perspective, that's a hell of a lot more inspirational than anything coming from Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Duff, Britney Spears, or Candace Parker.

Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

Allow me to explain. I like your basic analysis of the "pant suit" tag, "1. The candidate who wears them is a woman, and 2. The candidate who wears them isn’t sexy and chic." I would take it a step further and suggest that what it adds up to is not just dowdiness (for which a woman in her 60s who knew her place would be forgiven), but threatening boundary-crossing and ambiguity. IOW, queer.

Sullivan (and most of his fellow haters) don't mean to imply that she's literally a lesbian (although undoubtedly some of them do still come from mental worlds where "lesbian" is an insult). That's too reductive. They mean to imply that she's dangerously out of place, she's not following gendered conventions, and as a woman presuming to rule, she's threatening to disturbe the hierarchy of gender and sexuality that is meant to keep us all in place.

This is one of my theories for why HRC is doing so well with the GLBTQ community--they're not threatened by gender-queer people, so saying "pant suit" is a dogwhistle they don't respond to (or if they do, they respond by making sure they get her back.)

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I'll leave it to others to debate Sully's LGBT cred, but clearly the implication is that it's suspiciously unfeminine for a gal to put her gams in pants like that.

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

They have to be masculine or asexual. Unattractive is also encouraged.

Another taboo Hillary is breaking.

All the high-flown speeches in the world don't amount to a pile of horseshit without being grounded in the mundane machinery of the state- Anglachel

Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

what they'd say about her legs and ankles if she'd bare them. Flag pins and arugula would look positively wonkish and issue-oriented compared to how "piano leg-gate" would be played out in the media!

Actually, Clinton is one of those women who's grown into her looks as she's aged. She's got great skin and fabulous cheek bones, so she looks better now than she did in her 20s and 30s. (No doubt she's got a stylist too now, which helps.) But, one of the things about a Clinton presidency that excited me was the possibility that maybe a few Americans might be persuaded to value women for something other than looks and sexual availability. I'm still in my 30s, but I look at these women in their 20s as a totally foreign generation, because they're spending so much time and money in tanning spas, getting themselves waxed, having highlights in their hair, getting their nails done, etc. How alienated from their own bodies they must be if they think at that young age they need to be "improved" that much. Back in my youth in the 1980s and early 1990s, I'm glad standards of beauty didn't require us all to look like plucked and bronzed chickens.

Anyway, thanks for a great post and great exchange in the comments. Clothing has been an academic interest as well as a personal interest of mine, particularly as it relates to questions about gender and sexuality.

Violet Socks's picture
Submitted by Violet Socks on

It's standard form to describe (unflatteringly) a woman as "* in a dress."

The form of the phrase is:

[Name of famous man] in a [typical article of woman's clothing]

So we have:

Nixon in a dress
Diaghilev in a dress
MacArthur in a dress

and countless other permutations I've heard in my life.

To quote Sullivan's original commenter (who coined the phrase):

"In short, Hillary is Nixon in a dress, or more appropriately Nixon in a pant suit."

The pantsuit isn't the point -- it's just an updated version of "dress."

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

altho she wears standard office attire for most women nowadays--Laura Bush does too.

(and she's really really pear-shaped--and dresses do not say "leader" but say "woman" first and we all know she's a woman so it doesn't need to be emphasized...)

And she's running around outside in 50 states up on stages and platforms in all sorts of weather and wind and conditions--and just imagine if the wind lifted her dress up--it'd be all over the papers forever like her cleavage was, and some ass would probably even sneak cameras in to peek up, knowing them.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

As noted with the Google citation count, there is a peculiar fixation on the pantsuits.

"Dress" lacks the handy implication that she's some weird, uncool, hermaphroditic "other."

FlipYrWhig's picture
Submitted by FlipYrWhig on

"Pantsuit" has a connotation of the official costume of a Strong Woman... from the past. It summons up anxiety over the first visible generation of female corporate climbers in the '70s. IMHO it is meant to suggest "aggressive," "unfeminine," and also "outdated." In other words, "ballbuster."

Violet Socks's picture
Submitted by Violet Socks on

I think it's an added layer of meaning.

The first layer of meaning, and I think the primary layer, is still the relatively straightforward "Nixon in a dress" sense -- in other words, a woman trying to act like a man, or even a man in drag (recall Truman Capote's description of Jacquelin Susann).

But the "pantsuit" adds a secondary layer: she's not just a woman, but one of those hairy-legged women's libber types. And dowdy. And fat. With ugly knees.

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on

I like pantsuits, they are practical and comfortable. Nylons itch, dresses can flip up, get static cling, they can ride up when sitting and people can say that they saw up her skirt when she is on stage. There are so many reasons NOT to wear a skirt, I'm not sure why this is even an issue. Why don't men wear skirts? Why should a woman?
I don't care if she grows hair on her ass and has a warts all over her face, I'm not going to ever want to date her, I'm hoping someone will address the working class while in office, not sign women up for beauty pageants. Sheesh.

"The great divide in this country is not by race or even income, it's by those who think they are better than everyone else and think they should play by a different set of rules," --Bill Clinton

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

The other thing pantsuits do is give women a lot more choice about shoes, which I would think is important if you're keeping the schedule Clinton keeps. This also ties into the criticisms of Clinton's legs because, of course, the point of pantyhose and heels is to make women's legs and ass more attractive (heels tend to make women sway their hips).

Like zuzu, when I started out practicing law fifteen years ago, all women wore skirt suits. Those went with pantyhose and high heels. Some women like wearing pantyhose and high heeled shoes. Personally, I think pantyhose in D.C. in August is an eighth amendment violation. Although, just as a lot of women don't wear skirt suits anymore, I know lawyers who do but ditch the pantyhose in the summer. And my grandmother had trouble walking in her 70s and 80s because of the shoes she tortured her feet with when she was a young woman in the 1940s, so while I know women who love heels, they aren't necessarily good for you to wear 12 hours a day, five to seven days a week.

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

Lawyers are supposed to "dress appropriately" for court, which basically establishes a uniform for court. Meanwhile our clients can wear a wider variety of things, including orange jumpsuits if they are in custody.

What I wear doesn't make me any smarter, or improve my arguments.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

joc's picture
Submitted by joc on

What I wear doesn’t make me any smarter, or improve my arguments.

Maybe you should try better briefs!

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

is my favorite.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Submitted by hipparchia on

nobody makes you wear a skirt and heels and stockings in the lab, or even expects you to. in fact, in most labs, you're required to wear long pants and closed, low-heeled shoes.

t-shirts, blue jeans, and running shoes, yeah!

plus, you get to blow up stuff.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

denatured alcohol fumes and a shorting electric pump motor...
but in my salad days I wore green fatigues with a .38.

The fun part was the M-60 demonstrations, for me, 'cause they were hands-on. But we had an M-203 grenade launcher and shotgun demos, and rifle and pistol fire every day. Night fire drills were amazing, too.

But I digress.

Never played with any AMFO, but, now, Tide dissolved in gasoline, in a Mason jar ... you can blow stuff UP with that.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

How are ya?

Keep up with the recipies and you are gonna get this site on the watch list. That happens, I'll have to stop making fun of the paranoids.

Picric acid. Just sayin'....

Submitted by hipparchia on

and a few have even been spectacular.

ooooh, a grenade launcher! i'm a teeny tiny bit jealous. i suppose there's always potato guns though.

Submitted by lambert on

Carville in Newsweek:

"A superdelegate commitment and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee at the Ritz-Carlton."

Sheesh, I've been running "___ and a dime will get you a cup of coffee" for years, but I guess I need to stick with playing rhythm, not solo.

Then there's this one:

"If she gave him one of her cojones, they'd both have two."

First, I laughed. Then I thought, Yep, the Unity schtick is all about conflict avoidance, and not about getting stuff done, so Carville is right. And then I thought, OTOH, Clift is playing the "Let's you and him[her] fight game" that they always play.

And then I thought, well, every time zuzu's called bullshit on gender-driven snark I've agreed with her.

So, does that apply here and if so why?

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

kc's picture
Submitted by kc on

the 70's put down of the pants suit look. And I was guilty of that also----but todays look so much better. Most of Hillary's pantsuits look good on her and even if they didn't, who cares? Personally, jeans and tee shirt are my uniform.

She definitely is not dowdy--that is reserved for someone who wears matching hats, shoes and purse carried over one arm (Queen of England style). Carrying around that purse drives me crazy-like she is going to have to whip out ID or something.

Hillary just says 'competence' and that is what I'm dying for after Bush. Not popular, not transformational, not cool----competent.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

this is part of why some younger (and older) straight men have problems with her i think--she's a (rare) really really public female celebrity who's not presenting as a sex object, or using looks as a lure, or playing up any of the things some think are necessary if you're a woman on tv all the time, like anchorwomen and movie and musical stars, etc, do.

kc, i think in terms of the range of misogynist slurs used against her clothes/looks that the queer, manly, unfeminine ones are really really outdated -- this is not the 1970s or even the 1980s, when women had to fight to be able to wear pants at work. But because they're reaching back to slur her, maybe her everyday uniform of pantsuits do come off to them like the 70s ones.

kc's picture
Submitted by kc on

its their loss----being so shallow

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The real tell-tale sign for Pittsburghers is their unenthusiasm for the verb "to be," at least in its infinitive form.

If someone says "My hair needs cut" or "My hair needs warshed," dollars to donuts they're from the Golden Triangle or thereabouts.