I do not apologize for liking TV shows like Scandal, The Good Wife, Suits, and yes, even Nashville. Because they all have lots of strong, empowered, female characters who do not shy away from stomping the spiky four-inch heels of their pointy Louboutin’s squarely into the instep of the mirror-toed Ferragamo loafers of the men they work and live with. Olivia, Alicia, Jessica, and Rayna (wait, I never noticed this – why do these names all end in a?) throw their sparrow-like weight around and get stuff done. They put up with the pouty, petulant, behavior of their male colleagues and various ex-husbands, brush off minor incidents like getting imprisoned, drugged, almost killed in car accidents with drunken boyfriends, and emerge with nary a spot on their perpetually, impeccably unblemished skin. Kind of like on Young and Restless, where Nikki starts out working at a strip bar (not that’s there’s anything wrong with that) then hooks up with millionaire Victor, who had previously kept his wife in a dungeon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either…
But that’s not the topic for today. Today’s topic is the outfits women wear on TV. Let’s start with Olivia Pope. Olivia is very fond of white, black, and grey, with a few renegade pops of beige. Labels that form the backbone of her closet include Gucci, Prada, Armani, and Valentino. When Scandal was running, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour drooled over and dissected her outfits like they were play-by-play commentators at a fashion Superbowl.
Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife, favours jackets with asymmetrical lapels, peplums, and zippers. The kind of thing you find on the Escado and Pucci racks. Alicia, I must remind you, is separated from her disgraced crooked politician husband, and after being out of the workforce for fifteen years, is starting at the bottom rung of a law firm. Alicia’s wardrobe was also a subject of analysis by Vogue and Glamour. Cementing the premise that both Alicia’s and Olivia’s wardrobes are supreme outliers in the available clothing choices of the general population of working women.
Then we have Suits. The “suits” part refers primarily to the male lawyers, although Jessica Pearson does have her name on the letterhead of the firm as managing partner. I have done extensive research (so you don’t have to) on the subject of the female clothing in Suits. Partly because half the outfits are so exquisite I covet them, and partly because the other half is completely outrageous. The costume designer, Jolie Andreatta, is on record saying she had a hard time dressing the women off-the-rack in sufficiently powerful ensembles. Even if the off-the-rack was Dior and Lanvin. So, she relied a lot on the Frankenstein approach: putting two dresses together, adding or taking sleeves away, doctoring waistlines and necklines. Donna (another a name), the office manager, sports body-hugging dresses that do not exist in real life. Her sleeveless dresses drape like an Armani jacket, while clinging to her Soulcycle backside, channeling Pippa Middleton at her sister’s royal wedding. And Rachel, a paralegal, wears a wardrobe heavy on Burberry and Alexander McQueen, perhaps foreshadowing the closet of a duchess who can actually afford this stuff. In the final seasons, lawyer Samantha Wheeler (what? another a name) takes the tacky cake when she sashays into the office wearing a white, lace-up, bustier over a sheer white shirt. A look I am sure all of us could pull off if we just tried hard enough.
So here’s the thing. People (men) made fun of Hilary Clinton’s sensible pantsuits. People (men) made fun of Elizabeth Warren’s schoolmarmy blazers. People (women, because men did not care) applauded Michelle Obama’s down-market Gap, Banana Republic, and J Crew sweaters, skirts and dresses. Because we can all buy that stuff, even if it works better for mother-in-chief than CEO. And that’s what bums me out the most. Not only can I not afford to clothe myself like Olivia or Alicia, most of what we see being worn on TV by executive women simply does not exist. Kind of like equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity for equal effort, and equal status for equal accomplishment. Happy international women’s day.