What Is It With the Clothes?

When Vladimir Putin strode out to his press conference with George Bush today, his two-button suitcoat flared in the wind, revealing a scarlet silk lining. Putin, boldly eschewing the power tie and pinstripes chosen by powerful leaders on world stage, opted instead for the swashbuckling style of the sexually at ease.  Putin challenges expectations and assumptions. There is undeniable authority in his lift heels and understated lizard skin suspenders . . . essays and books have been written about the erotic nature of high heels.  The sexual frisson in Putin’s look also comes from the tension of a man dressed in vaguely feminine attire.

Putin’s jacket and boots speak of sex and power. When looking at the image of Putin in Bratislava, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature, to shadowy daydreams. It is as though sex and power can only coexist in a fantasy. When a man combines them in the real world, stubborn stereotypes have his power devolving into a form that is purely sexual.

If you’ve read this far, you’re no doubt wondering where the hell this is going. It’s lifted phrasing comes directly from a Robin Givhan article in the Washington Post that made me angry. Robin critiqued Condoleezza Rice’s choice of clothing at her Wiesbaden Army Airfield tour on Wednesday and (apparently) found it soaked in sexual meaning. I’m not a great fan of Ms. Rice, but Givhan’s take on the Secretary of State’s attire was so far off base that it smacked more of Monty Python than the Post.

Apologies to Vladimir Putin, who I used for shock value, but who is always dressed appropriately and shuns the gold braid and idiot-uniforms that (dis)grace so many of the world’s lesser known president-dictators.

What is it with the clothing issue?  Madeleine Albright was ‘dowdy’ and Condoleezza is ‘Dominatrix!’ in Givhan’s estimate. “When looking at the image of Rice in Weisbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all in context,” she writes.

Let me give you a hand, Robin. The context is the U.S. Secretary of State visiting Germany.  You got a problem with that?

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