When you have two male eyes, and they are attached to two male typing fingers, women's fashion is a treacherous subject. But today, I wade into that swamp, hormonally incorrect though I may be, to see if we can answer an age-old question:
Do D.C. women dress differently from New York women? If so, how and why?
Sandra Burgess, who has entirely female eyes and fingers, raises the question because I made her chuckle with a recent column. It was about pockets in women's clothing.
A reader had written that she desperately wanted pockets as part of her workaday wardrobe. She was having trouble finding them. I suggested Donna Karan and Calvin Klein lines and quoted spokeswomen for both companies as saying pockets were standard in what they sell.
Sandra may have stopped hooting by now. Then again . . .
"Do you have any idea how expensive those lines are?" she asks. Besides, she thinks Donna Karan's clothes "look like PJs. Comfortable, yes. For your average workplace, no."
And then, the sentence that causes this column:
Karan and Klein clothes "are styled much more for New York than for conservative Washington."
Is there such a disparity? After all, Wall Street isn't exactly counterculture. And if you stop by a swank eatery in Manhattan, you will still see suits and ties on the men and dresses and heels on the women, for the most part.
At the same time, Washington office fashion has undergone an incredible change. Thirty years ago, I worked with a man who not only wore a dark blue jacket and tie to work every single day but never took off the jacket or loosened the tie. The man who has the same job today comes to work in orange patterned sweaters and green corduroys.
As for women, I have seen cranberry vinyl slacks and black leather jodhpurs in the office in recent weeks. Not exactly Emily Post.
Asked to provide her two cents, Robin Givhan, The Post's fashion reporter, said she doesn't think "one city has a better quality of clothes. But I think NYC tends to have more people who have a certain flair for style." Robin adds that "there are horribly dressed people in both cities."
"My favorite thing about NYC is the tendency not to worry about being appropriate," Robin said. "Jeans, leather pants and Chanel suits can coexist in the same restaurant. Here, the lines are more distinctly drawn. You're not gonna see too many pairs of leather pants at, say, the Palm."
By the way, Robin notes that Klein and Karan "have become very mainstream brands." Each offers lines that "most men and women can afford."
You do have to check tags carefully, however, Robin says. "Signature lines" can run $800 for a women's blazer and $1,500 for a men's suit.
Does the great debate seem any different away from the East Coast? Vincent Roppatte suggests that the answer is yes. His 1998 book, "Big City Look: How to Achieve That Metropolitan Chic -- No Matter Where You Live," defines the New York and Washington looks as follows:
Trendy, trendy, trendy -- it's okay to stand out in a crowd.
All black -- all day and all night. Women in New York even have casts for broken arms done in black.
Backpacks of all kinds, except those with little animals on them.
Skirts that end just above the knee.
Low heels, probably a patent leather pump.
Big, lush cashmere scarves draped over a suited shoulder.
A single strand of pearls.
Regardless of all else, The Washington Look is whatever the first lady favors, says Brother Roppatte. The main aim of Washington workplace clothing: "To withstand a workaholic's long day."
If you're choking on a few of these distinctions and assertions, take heart. If Washington women want to be hip the way women are in Los Angeles, they'd have to sport Winnie the Pooh backpacks, Roppatte says.
I have a hunch that D.C. ladies, having heard that, are counting their blessings -- and reaching for those single strands of pearls.
After each election, Mother Hen Levey likes to scold local political candidates to take down their campaign signs. Win or lose, most do -- and in 1999, most have.
But Bill Tatter's choices haven't.
Bill writes to say that most of the people he voted for two weeks ago still have posters up all over his neighborhood. The sluggards include winners as well as losers, Bill says, and candidates from both parties.
Bill calls this "ironic." I call it a window of opportunity. Maybe if Bill wouldn't vote, every poster would come down right after every election, just as it should.
Diana Abrials, of Warrenton, says it made her laugh. Small wonder.
While driving home from work along Interstate 66, Diana passed "an older car broken down in the median." Its tags read: AHNUTS.