A Clothes Call: Robin Givhan Defends Covering Politicians' Fashion Choices

By: David Astor Robin Givhan talked to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Friday about her unique beat -- covering fashion with a frequent political twist.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post writer said clothing and appearance are an important element of politics. Her column subjects have included Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, to name a few.

Many people have scrutinized Clinton's appearance, including the time in 1996 when the then-first lady wore an outfit that some people claimed had a swirl of beads shaped like a dragon.

"It wasn't a dragon," recalled Givhan. "It was an abstract, art-deco view of seashells."

In 2000, Givhan wrote about how much makeup Harris wore -- and was criticized for focusing too much on a woman's appearance. "Obviously, I disagree," said Givhan. "I only focus on the choices people make -- the clothes they choose, the makeup they choose," rather than the basic physical appearance they were born with.

Is judging people partly by their clothing a good thing? "We all do it," said Givhan, adding that there are certain clothes people often wear at certain events -- suits at job interviews, white at weddings, black at funerals.

"If you're burying your mother and someone showed up in a clown suit, you'd be insulted," she said. "Clothes matter."

In 2005, Givhan commented on how inappropriate it was for Cheney wear a parka at an Auschwitz ceremony rather than a more dignified coat. "It suggested that he was more concerned with his own comfort than the event," she said.

Givhan also commented about how uncomfortable many male politicians seem when they try to look casual.

Female politicians have a more diverse selection of clothing to choose from, said Givhan, but the disadvantage of not being able to wear something as "fashion-neutral" as a typical male suit.

Givhan joined the Post in 1995 after working for the Detroit Free Press.


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