Should women have to ‘dress to impress’?

Morgan Boll and Audrey Pucciarelli

Female candidates often struggle with finding the right clothes to wear during campaigns and elections, as they get hyper-criticized about wearing both dresses and pantsuits. Meanwhile, men have the effortless option of simply wearing a suit. Professional clothing isn’t cheap, and women need to make sure to buy the right pieces so they don’t get rebuked by society.

The clothing company MM. LaFleur, founded by Sarah LaFleur, Narie Foster and Miyako Nakamura in 2011, makes finding business attire easier and more convenient for female candidates. MM. LaFleur recently created a program called “Ready to Run,” which loans three free items of clothing to women running for public office.

This program is convenient for female politicians, considering the high prices of business clothes. “A lot of women can’t afford to buy clothes that people expect of candidates,” said LaFleur in an interview with The Washington Post. “If it’s in any way a hurdle for these women, it brings me such joy that we can help alleviate that problem.”

Although it’s great that this company has offered to help, they ultimately can’t stop the unfair criticism from the public. An article published by The Denver Post addressed the reasons behind former 2020 Democratic Candidate Elizabeth Warren’s choice of style. Warren explains her style as being “aerodynamic”; however, people criticize her on several social media platforms for her fashion choices. One comment in the article said, “She makes you wonder if she ever changes out of that jumpsuit. All she does is change the color of her jacket.”

This dilemma for women has been going on for a while. Former presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been routinely criticized for wearing pantsuits. Even Project Runway’s Tim Gunn joined in, saying in 2011, “Why must she dress that way? I think she’s confused about her gender.”

Photo by Flickr
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

A Fast Company magazine article makes the point that it’s not easy getting dressed if you are a woman in politics; you have to be thoughtful and strategic with your appearance. While male politicians can blend in with any suit, women like Warren and Clinton have to adjust to wearing a suit without looking “too masculine” or a dress without looking “too feminine.” Women not only have to target the best outfit, but they must strategically choose their hair style, accessories and makeup as well, adding to the total expenditure and stress of their campaigns.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that women have to focus on the attire they present themselves in. Time and time again women are criticized because their clothes are “too sexy” or “too distracting” for the serious role they are expected to fill. This unfair depiction of women for the way they dress has a strong impact on the way the public views a woman’s ability to present themselves as a public figure.

“Ready to Run” has shown female candidates that they no longer need to worry about the expense of choosing the perfect, “appropriate” outfit. Although some of this financial stress is relieved, there’s still work to be done. Until we change the unfair way we view female politicians, they will continue to have to spend more time than male politicians on their appearances.