The U.S. government is poised for a shutdown. Massacres in Washington, Kenya and Pakistan have produced worldwide anguish. And on a deeply superficial level, I’ve got a wretched cold and my apartment reeks of smoke from a neighbor’s minor electrical fire.
Now comes Emma Rosenblum, the Bloomberg Businessweek “Etc.” editor, who in just six paragraphs multiplied my angst by condemning, sight unseen, much of what passes for my work wardrobe: seven pairs of black trousers.
“Boring and sad” she calls all those ebony office pants that do not perfectly conform to imperfectly formed bodies, and “boring and sad” she labels the millions of women who wear “black, poly-blend, straight-legged slacks” which, alas, “gap at the waist and pull at the crotch. They make a distinct scratching sound when you cross and uncross your legs in a meeting. Sometimes they have pleats. Sometimes they have back pockets. Sometimes they have stretch. But they’re never, ever flattering.”
The photo above that prickly prose, shot from the rear of course, has the words “KILL ME” emblazoned across the model’s black-clad butt.
In truth, my offending trou commit only some of Rosenblum’s fashion faux pas, but I consider those sins a small price to pay for convenience. With pants at the ready, I need only choose a top, footwear and a few festive accessories before racing out the door.
Rosenblum does, of course, offer alternatives: J.Crew’s $138 Minnie and $148 cropped Eaton Boy; Kate Spade’s wide-legged Ali ($278), also made in red for the office adventuress; the Gap’s $54.95 Slim Cropped Plaid or Ann Taylor Loft’s $79.50 Julie leopard print ankle pants. For those able to spend more than $500, she suggests luxe designs by Stella McCartney and Jil Sander.
Not surprisingly, her condemnation/recommendation story drew a range of comments.
“Why, in the 21st century, are you obsessing over what a woman wears, rather than what she contributes?” posted a male reader. “If this is truly a ‘business’ site, you need grown-up writers”
“$500 for a pair of pants is most of my rent,” huffed another commenter.
“Back in the real world people are actually quite judgmental whether we admit it or not. How we dress influences what others think of us. Shallow I know, but that’s the reality,” wrote a third.
Rosenblum told me by phone that the story was meant as a “fun riff” on suitable alternatives, and that in June she ran a Wesley Morris piece about men who should probably switch from basic sneakers — “two big, basic blocks that veer from the athletic to the orthopedic” — to pricey, designer kicks for casual Fridays at the office. She also said she often wears jeans to work, a sartorial luxury many women are denied.
What rankles about Rosenblum’s salvo in the closet wars, which women have fought since they began working outside the home, is that no matter how we dress, someone is always telling us it’s wrong. And let’s not even get started on hair, especially for women of color, which could fill a book or three about appropriate vs. authentic.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who favors colorful Armani trouser suits, recently saluted former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y), for making history as the first congresswoman to wear pants on the House floor in the ‘90s. Molinari, who now runs Google’s Washington office and wore a perky, polka-dot dress to the reception where the shout-out took place, seemed somewhat startled to be thusly hailed. Turns out, Pelosi was wrong. It was Rep. Charlotte Reid, (R-Ill.), way back in 1969, who broke tradition by wearing a black bell-bottomed pantsuit inside the chamber on Christmas Eve before the House adjourned.
Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits are still a running joke, but back in 2007, she also took heat for showing a bit of cleavage under a pink blazer while giving a speech in the Senate.
And who can forget Secretary of State Condi Rice’s black leather stiletto boots, black straight skirt and military style coat worn in 2005 to a U.S. Army airfield in Germany, which triggered a spate of dominatrix jokes. Truth is, Rice looked authoritative and, yes, sexy.
First Lady Michelle Obama, whose distinctive taste runs from J. Crew to couture, has been cheered and jeered for exposing those buff arms and promoting emerging designers, not all of them American. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, an unabashed fashionista, was criticized by some for a recent Vogue spread in which she was photographed from above lying on a chaise in a slinky blue sheath and very high heels, like some 21st-century odalisque. No male CEO would allow himself to be posed like that, complained her critics.
Which brings us back to Rosenblum’s pant rant. Given the state of the world, I can’t take it too seriously. But I will heed her most salient advice: to give a ruthless shopping buddy absolute veto power the next time I go out to buy trousers.
If she says, “of course they make your butt look fat” or “uh-oh, camel toe,” that dreaded indentation of fabric in the crotch, I’ll quickly move on to the next pair. But there is a very good chance that whatever I buy will not be red, plaid, cropped or leopard. And don’t even get me started on finding a pair of jeans that fit.