Since Solicitor General Elena Kagan was nominated to be the next associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the political world has been abuzz with discussions about her sense of style. Washington Post commentator Robin Givah referred to Kagan’s sartorial selections as “offensive” and “drab” before declaring that no Supreme Court nominee in recent memory has possessed anything resembling style.
Frankly, I agree with Givhan that Kagan’s attire reflects more of an absence of style than a sense of style. Her daily uniform of black separates worn with either a colored or a textured jacket is positively snore worthy. Her clothing is boxy, untailored and less than flattering. In essence, Elena Kagan is everything that is wrong with the Washington, D.C. dress code.
But does it matter?
I certainly don’t think that her confirmation should or would hinge on her poorly edited wardrobe, but I do think that her clothing choices illustrate how opinions about professional style are changing. The boxy suits, square-toed shoes, princess seamed blouses and sheer nylons of yesteryear are now considered painfully dated. But when Elena Kagan and SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor were coming up through the ranks, women who wanted to break into the professional boys club shelved their femininity in the hopes that their intelligence and hard work would shine through their crepe suits. In other words, they murdered pretty to save smart.
Women of my generation are now demanding the right to dress with femininity in the workplace. I wear form fitting dresses, ruffled blouses, brightly-colored pumps and tailored suits with pretty details all the time. I almost never wear pants, and there isn’t one boxy jacket/skirt/dress in my closet. This is the evolution of style for professional women with jobs of substance; you can be pretty/stylish and smart/respected. As Johanna Cox used to say, “A serious job is no excuse,” to dress like a Dominican Nun on a day pass from the convent.
I hope that this blog and others have made some difference in the way professional women are dressing. Hopefully, in twenty years, there will be a female SCOTUS nominee who loves Vivienne Westwood or Ports 1961 and our long national nightmare will be over. To one day have a female justice whose sense of style consists of more than just the doily on her judge’s robe would be a small victory for professional women everywhere.
P.S. I would also appreciate it if Ms. Kagan could learn how to sit like a lady.