Monday, January 26, 2009

In Praise of Style

In Praise of Style

When Aretha Franklin came up to the podium to sing our national anthem at Barak Obama's inauguration, the crowd that I was watching the proceedings with gave out a loud cheer. In part it was because so many of us appreciate her music (RESPECT says it all) but in part it was because of the hat she wore. It was a large gray hat with an enormous bow in the front. It was reminiscent of the fabulous hats many African-American women wore to churches throughout the 20th century. If you are not familiar with the style, look at "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats" by Cunningham and Marberry which is a wonderful collection of pictures of women and their hats.

Michelle Obama also had a fashion statement that inauguration day in her yellow dress with a yellow long jacket. Regardless of what you thought about either the hat or the dress, both women were dressing in a way that stood out and said I am here to please my own sense of style. I am not wearing a dark pant suit and looking like a man with curves.

Don't get me wrong. If you like dark pant suits, wear them; and in fact I do. But I do love to see women in showy clothes that they feel comfortable in. I hope Michele Obama does not become known for only fashion statements and protecting her children -- traditional roles for the first lady. On inauguration day, both of these women were acting in traditional female roles, one as a wife and one as an entertainer. But hopefully their lively sense of style will also free political and professional women to express their own sense of style. Hillary Clinton wore colorful pant suits which broke a little with tradition and for which the press never tired of commenting on.

I am ready for America to accept that a stylish women can also be a serious women. Let's have some fun with our clothes while we get serious about our politics.