“I couldn’t find a nice suit jacket that wasn’t black,” O’Donnell said. “You used to find all kinds in blues and hot pinks. They stopped making them. That’s when I thought, what’s changed?”
For her head shot, O’Donnell, 38, ended up choosing a six-year-old navy Giorgio Armani blazer out of her closet, one she rarely wears except when interviewing presidents or heads of state. Like so many working women in the news media and other professions, O’Donnell hasn’t bought a suit in years, a surprising admission given that the newswoman spent her 20s wearing suits so she “could be taken seriously.” The same can be said of seasoned anchors such as Diane Sawyer and Andrea Mitchell, who rarely graced the screen in the 1980s and ’90s without lapels shielding their chests.
For decades, the suit jacket transformed women into workers. With jackets required for entrance at male-dominated clubs and boardrooms, women bundled up their breasts to blend into a professional culture that predated their arrival. But in recent years, even as men continued to assume corporate uniforms of suits and ties, newswomen — one of the last vestiges of female suit wearers — have resoundingly dismissed them from their closets. They now flank themselves in bright sleeveless sheath dresses and stiletto heels, renouncing the once hard-and-fast edicts of television news: no bare legs, no long hair, no feminine distractions from the news. The revision of the female anchor’s dress code happened swiftly and broadly on network and cable television. And if newswomen are the most visible barometers of workplace fashion, the women’s suit may one day go the way of the petticoat.
“Ten years ago, professional dress meant a Talbots suit for women,” said Dave Smith, president of SmithGeiger, a market research firm that consults with news networks. “What’s appropriate for female talent on television has evolved because of familiarity. The audience has equal regard for female and male anchors. It’s given women far more liberty to be feminine.”
O’Donnell agrees: “There has been an evolution of women’s wear on television. Part of that is the changing times, but it’s also because there are more women in media who feel comfortable about what they want to wear.”
That theory of empowerment rings true for many newswomen. They’ve finally laid claim to the anchor’s chair and can let their hair down or, at least, grow it past their shoulders. Even Sawyer and Mitchell have adopted subtle changes in wardrobe. Sawyer sometimes wears crisp black blouses sans jacket while anchoring the evening news. Mitchell often prefers pastel, cap-sleeved shells for her afternoon show on MSNBC.