By Yasmine Naama ‘17
Since her days as first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton has been a target for fashion police everywhere. Even after an investment in style experts for her long journey down the campaign trail, the public still feels the need to share its two cents about the classily dressed pant-suited lady every time she makes a public appearance. But why is it that no one feels the need to comment on Donald Trump’s overabundance of $7,000 Brioni suits, while Hillary’s $12,495 Giorgio Armani tweed jacket is all the buzz? The importance society has put on woman’s fashion is to blame, and we can turn to French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault and similar researchers for the answer.
Foucault references Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the Panopticon in relation to his studies around self-discipline and punishment. According to Lydia Alix Fillingham (1993), The idea of a Panopticon is “that every person is isolated in a small room, where they all may be observed at all times by a single person in the center tower” (p. 126). The backlash against Hillary Clinton’s choice of designer jacket shows that she is being surveyed under the male panoptic gaze. Every move that she makes under the public eye; as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan writes, she is being looked at “steadily, intently, and with fixed attention.” Because she is a victim of the gaze, conscious decisions are made regarding her outfit choices whether she knows that someone is watching or not.
Furthermore, Hillary Clinton’s attention to her wardrobe is an example of an internal struggle between her real self versus her fake self. Sarah J. Tracy and Angela Trethewey (2005) write that, “Truth effects created by the real-self fake-self dichotomy are important not because there are necessarily true differences between real and fake selves, but because people talk and act as if there are” (p. 170). This is important because it shows that Hillary’s choice to wear a designer jacket while giving a speech to the public highlights her “fake self.” Because she is being watched, she feels the need to display her identity in order to please the male panoptic gaze. Wearing a designer jacket demonstrates that she has the money to dress in a flattering manner, and money communicates that she has power as well.
From a woman’s perspective, the struggle for power over the male gaze is increasingly strong because of the technologically saturated world we live in. Furthermore, Tracy and Trethewey (2005) explain that, “Specifically, we argue that the dichotomy encourages (a) strategized self-subordination; (b) perpetually deferred identities; (c) auto-dressage; and (d) the production of organizationally preferred ‘good little copers’” (p. 170). Perfectly posh pant-suited Hillary Clinton’s choice in dress code exemplifies her actively deferring her identity, or real self. The structures of society and the idea that we are unconsciously being viewed under a microscopic lens encourage the real-self versus fake-self dichotomy that Hillary displays in her public appearance.
On another note, we can also use identity theory when surveying the media’s fixation on Hillary’s clothes. Donal Carbaugh’s idea that identity is a product of communication can also be used to explain why attention is paid to not only what Hillary Clinton wears on a day to day basis, but other women in the workplace as well. According to Carbaugh (1996), “From this vantage point, the question Who am I? depends partly on ‘where’ I am, with whom I am, and what I can ably do there, in that scene, with those people, given the (material and symbolic) resources that are available to the people there” (p. 24). This relates to Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis where he explains that we are all actors on a stage and different scenes (situations) call upon different behaviors depending on whom we are interacting with. The podium that Hillary Clinton stands behind while giving a speech to a specific audience is an example of the many different “stages” that she portrays herself differently for. Additionally, Carbaugh promotes his idea of the Cultural Pragmatic Idiom to communicate that we do not have identity but that identity is something that we show depending on whom we are engaging in conversation with. He writes that, “One’s sense of who one is derives from the particular arrangement of social scenes in which one participates” (Carbaugh, 2005, p. 25). This exemplifies why Hillary Clinton’s decision to wear a Giorgio Armani jacket to a particular speech has been under public scrutiny. Society is questioning her sincerity because of her wardrobe choices.
So why do we give a damn about Hillary Clinton’s jacket? The public cares because much more so than men, society has deemed that a woman’s fashion style communicates how she want to be seen and heard by her subordinates. Her designer jacket exemplifies the respect that she is gauging for from the public. Hillary, like most women, is a victim of the male panoptic gaze, and in response to that struggles with her identity in portraying a real versus fake self while in front of an audience.