Nobody expects women on television to dress as they do in real life. At least not in the USA. Especially not working women. Female FBI agents in 3-inch heels chase down sneakered criminals, women cops unbutton their third button, girl doctors sport very good hair. Oh well. It’s imaginary.
But three current American programs star heroines with wardrobes worth a closer look. When we consider the TV universe, and compare it to the real world, maybe we’ll find something.
We’ll start with the preposterous. Always a good strategy. Sigourney Weaver plays Diane Hammond, Secretary of State. She has run for President and lost in the primaries. Gives her concession speech wearing a burgundy jumpsuit. Not a pants suit, mind you, a jumpsuit.
I just don’t think so. Diane’s character bears all sorts of well-noted resemblance to Hillary Clinton, a philandering Southern former President husband for one thing. Unrepentantly bad hair, for another. But reference doesn’t guarantee reality. The jumpsuits, and the odd insistence on Very High-Waisted Pants, spring from the writers’ imagination, and serve more as a symbol of Powerful Women Who Make Bad Sartorial Choices, than a guide to work fashion.
The Good Wife
Let’s look towards the more realistic. Baranski plays top partner in this show’s fictitious law firm. And she dresses the part quite well, I’d say. Black and white silk top, structured cardigan, pearls like truck tires, and reading glasses. No color on the fingernails, notice that?
Note also that she’s not dressing like a man. No woven gray or black suit. Nor like a young woman with one small strand of pearls. I think these choices apply to the real world of 2012.
Above you see Emily Mortimer, playing the senior producer of a cable news broadcast, on Newsroom. First of all, let’s cheer for her color sense. Nice work, wardrobe people. Second, she’s in a pencil skirt and blouse. Yes. We do dress like that. Third, her shirt’s coming untucked. Exactly. It happens. Finally, she has a signature necklace. I haven’t been able to locate its provenance, but the gold chain with spaced discs is understated but unique. I approve.
We turn to real women. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, speaking above. Confession: the first time I saw this video I couldn’t stop muttering to myself about her cleavage display. Chalk that up to generational attitudes, and never mind. At the very least this outfit indicates that if you’re about to ride honcho over the most famous IPO in history, you can get away with decolletage.
Of course, we wonder if she has put it under wraps now that the shine is off that trophy.
How about Marissa? Formerly of Google, now CEO of Yahoo. Pregnant CEO of Yahoo, but that’s a far more serious discussion for another time.
Neither aqua, nor cardigans, are common on the C-level male. And how about that non-cropped hair, huh?
We can’t extrapolate Sheryl and Marissa out too quickly across all industries. They are in high tech. We’re different out here in California, amongst the bits, bytes and user interfaces. Women CEOs in other industries are most apt to dress like Denise Morrison and Maggie Wilderotter, sisters in blood as well as in calling.
So, finally, we will note that Fortune Magazine reports there are now 20 women CEOs amongst the 500. For decades, American men have worn the same outfits to conquer as they do to seduce. First, women had to get to the top. Then, possibly, they could lower their necklines a tad. Just a tad. I’m no advocate of vulgar display. But if America finally, ever, tolerates female sexuality matched with institutional authority, what then, my friends?
Sigourney Weaver in Political Animals via Bust Magazine
Christine Baranski in The Good Wife via NAtv
Emily Mortimer in Newsroom via iMDb
Sheryl Sandberg at TED via ABC
Marissa Mayer via CNN
Maggie Wilderotter and Denise Morrison via The Wall Street Journal