Normally when writing political opinion pieces, it’s off-to-the-races, pen-mightier-than-the-sword political commentary and analysis seeking to play a small part in positively influencing and, hopefully, bringing some sanity and substance to our public discourse. Everyone, put your swords down.
This is a different article, aimed toward a much more nuanced aspect of politics: clothing. With more women currently sitting in the United States Congress than any time in our history, it might be worthwhile to discuss an under-thought-of subject — at least outside the subconscious debates within a girl's closet — which is women's attire on the campaign stump.
Before delving in, full disclosure: I'm a male who wouldn't dare claim to have a women's fashion IQ higher than a 12, as I'm acutely aware it's a complex, even mind-boggling field from a guy’s perspective. But, as a student of politics, here’s a timeless political truth: How one presents themselves to the voters, clothing included, for both sexes, matters.
So, just as I’d decry an ill-fitting suit, an ugly, too fat, skinny or crooked neck tie, or the gull to wear a pinstripe suit on a debate stage with regard to men's political fashion, similarly I'll chime in for the sake of giving female candidates, whom we really should get used to seeing a lot more of on the political stump in the future, some "take it or leave it" clothing advice. So, although this specific subject doesn't apply to my wardrobe, I have insider information regarding women's campaign attire some may not be privy to, and it might be worth a share.
Let's begin. A minor detail glossed over in the WikiLeaks hack of the Hillary Clinton team's emails in 2016 was, believe it or not, a rigorous internal debate as to whether Hillary should have worn "workout clothes" on the campaign trail. That, of course, would be a rather drastic change from her trademark pantsuits. Ultimately, the team, and presumably Hillary — though it's unclear whether this discussion ever came to fruition in addressing it with her directly — decided not to dress down. But with the benefit of hindsight and with the goal of providing foresight on this issue, one must ask, was that the right call for her and future female politicians?
This all came to light as I was watching the 20-plus — including six women — democratic presidential candidates all deliver their one-minute stump speeches at the "World Famous Clyburn Fish Fry" festival, a staple campaign event preceding early next year's third-in-the-nation South Carolina primary. Sure enough, I noticed something that peculiarly retrieved from my brain that Hillary workout clothes snippet.
All the candidates sported the blue Clyburn campaign T-shirt, and most of the women wore a skirt or women's dress pants of some sort on the bottom. However, two of the women, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, caught my attention for making the bold move and wearing yoga pants/leggings — “workout clothes” — at the no-dress-code, summer afternoon-into-evening, casual event in the humid southeast.
All the speeches were practically the same, and a primary really is about distinguishing oneself from the crowd. Among a group that largely already agrees on policy, any distinction helps, especially in a 20-plus primary field. Alas, I found Gabbard, who’s since created an ad starting with her leading a group workout, and Warren’s dress down not only differentiating, but also smooth, surprisingly elegant and yes, confident.
A widespread agreement among those familiar with campaigning is that — despite all the "expert" advice a candidate will receive pulling them in either direction of any issue — at the end of the day, candidates just have to be themselves. Voters can sense "fakeness" from either sex, and they don't like it. So, to all the democratic primary female candidates on the stump now and any in the future, regarding non-dress coded campaign events, here’s some advice: If you work out and are proud of it, or if you feel like having some room to breathe during a hot summer event, or even if you just think you look good in workout or casual clothes, go for it, honestly. And if that's not your vibe, pull off what you feel you look best in.
After all, what's the worst that can happen, maybe you get some free press coverage out of it? Take the free press — which is the ultimate goal in a 20-plus-person primary — if it happens to accompany you for the bold, yet common-woman move of dressing down in public. But overall, just do your thing, then get back to the issues, and it's game on. In the end, like all fashion statements, confidence is key.
Eli Galiano is a senior political science major. Contact Eli at email@example.com.