NEW YORK – “The emperor has no clothes,” House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi once famously said about President George W. Bush. Well, actually he has some fairly decent ones, but it’s been Pelosi’s clothes – stylish, well-chosen and nicely cut, of the Armani variety – that have garnered attention since she became the most powerful woman in American politics earlier this month. Why do we focus on Pelosi’s clothes and not those of our president, or any male in Washington? Is it inherently sexist, detracting attention from her obvious accomplishments? Or is it merely a reflection of the obvious truth that, while clothes matter for both men and women, female attire is more noticeable, more expressive and more interesting? It’s an easier call when the fashion verdict is negative. Then, it can seem cruel: Recall the harsh response to Bush’s one-time Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers, whose attire, accessories and makeup were excoriated in the media. If she’d been a man and her standard navy blue suits were a bit dowdy, one can imagine, no ink would have been wasted. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’One person who finds attention to Pelosi’s clothes “over the top” is Eleanor Smeal, one of the country’s most recognizable feminists. “Yes, she dresses impeccably and wears clothes beautifully,” says Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “But this is a very accomplished woman. Why wasn’t there more attention to her achievement of breaking through the marble ceiling (and becoming the first female speaker in history)? They’re trying to keep us on the style pages, the old-fashioned way.” But there is one positive aspect to the attention, Smeal says: “At least it’s introducing the speaker to the country. Imagine if they didn’t like her clothes!” Pelosi, a 66-year-old grandmother, isn’t the first powerful woman in politics to be put under the sartorial microscope. The choices of Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most visible woman in U.S. politics, have been deconstructed through time, from her changing hairstyles to her inaugural hat in 1993 to the constant dark pantsuits on the Senate campaign trail, often paired with a pink blouse. (Again, imagine her well-dressed husband being criticized for always choosing a dark suit.) Of course it isn’t just in politics: on the night CBS’s Katie Couric debuted as the first female solo anchor of a network evening newscast, her short white jacket (post-Labor Day, some critics noted disapprovingly) was analyzed as much as her performance. One scholar of journalistic ethics argues that a politician’s attire is fair game in news coverage – but only under certain circumstances. “As a society, we look much more carefully at women’s appearance than men,” says Kelly McBride, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute in Florida. “At the same time, the clothing options for women are so much greater. As journalists, I don’t see how we can ignore this.” The task for the media, McBride says, is to do it in proper context, and in a way that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes. “It’s safer to say, here’s the reality: in our society we judge women by different standards – and then dig in to the nuances of that,” she says. What’s wrong, though, is to inject casual references to Pelosi’s clothes into every news story, “which would reinforce the notion that women should be judged on appearance.” One extensive analysis of Pelosi’s clothing came from Pulitzer-prize winning fashion critic Robin Givhan of The Washington Post, who often writes about the attire of major Washington figures – including a much-noticed piece on Vice President Dick Cheney’s casual outerwear at a Holocaust memorial service in Poland last year. Of the blue-gray Armani suit that Pelosi wore at her post-victory news conference, Givhan wrote that she appeared “polished and tasteful in front of the cameras. It is tempting to even go so far as to say that she looked chic, which in the world beyond Washington would be considered a compliment.” Of outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose rumpled suits have also been noted in the press, she wrote that there was “nothing chic or particularly polished” about him. The article appeared in the paper’s Style section, not in the political coverage – the kind of context and placement McBride was referring to.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!