Is it really appropriate for Roll Call to comment on Fed nominee Janet Yellen’s clothing?

Roll Call, a DC publication that covers the US Congress, ran a column yesterday in its gossip section, “Heard on the Hill,” that criticized Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen for wearing the same outfit to her nomination announcement with the President as she did yesterday to her nomination hearing in the Senate.

Much of the Internet was not amused.

First, here’s Roll Call, noting that Yellen wore the same black outfit to both events:

Janet Yellen with President Obama in the infamous black outfit.

Janet Yellen with President Obama in the infamous black outfit.

Whether Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama’s latest pick to head the Federal Reserve, proves to be the financial genius our sputtering economy so desperately needs, remains to be seen.

At least we know her mind won’t be preoccupied with haute couture….

Mind you, nobody has ever accused [Heard on the Hill] of being particularly stylish. But we do manage to switch up outfits on the reg.

The comments on the story were vicious – against Roll Call. There were 28 comments at the time of my writing this. All 28, vicious.  Here are the first ten:


A few Roll Call reporters defended the story, noting that Roll Call has written about men’s clothing before as well:

And yes they have written about men’s clothing. Though it was men wearing goofy outfits, like shorts to the House floor, or a really hideous jacket.  But is that really the same thing – noting guys wearing goofy ties or haircuts, as compared to criticizing women for wearing the same outfit?

And let’s face it, at least historically, businesswomen have gotten a lot more attention to their fashion choices than do businessmen.  The question is why, and whether it still happens today?

As to whether it still happens, oh yeah.  I wrote in May about White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and the Washington Post’s depiction of her a kind of dominatrix, sexualizing her in a way they likely would not have done to a man.

As to why – sexism, sure, but at the same time, when anyone, man or woman, goes the extra mile in wearing clothing that’s beyond the typical mundane uniform of their trade, it gets noticed.  Ted Cruz’s cowboy boots often get mentioned in stories about him. And as for sexualizing political personalities, Jon Stewart regularly pokes fun at GOP Senator Lindsey Graham’s fey-ness (as do I).

Still, this reminds me in many ways of conversations I’ve had about gay rights. I can’t even remember the exact details now, but it had something to do, I believe, with comedians poking fun at gays.  And the defense was, well they poke fun at everyone.  And I was trying to explain that yes, they do, but when you poke fun at groups that have historically been downtrodden – and when the poking has been used to keep them down – there’s a much lower threshold for offense taken.  And the same goes with writing stories about the fashion choices of powerful women, when such stories were, intentionally or not, used to diminish their accomplishments.

Historically, people didn’t write entire stories about some guy wearing the same tie to two different events.  They did write a lot about what women were wearing.  So even if Roll Call were writing about the clothing choices of men and women both, the fact that sexism still exists, and the fact that many felt Janet Yellen didn’t even get the nomination the first time around because she wasn’t part of the Old Boy’s Club, should make you more sensitive about writing a story, even in a gossip column, about her clothing.

And let’s not even talking about that Washington Post dominatrix story.

Speaking of wearing the same outfit a lot, and not getting a lot of notice of that fact, guess who wears the same white shirt and black suit everywhere he goes?

Yep, Yellen’s predecessor at the Fed, current chairman Ben Bernanke:


Bernanke’s wardrobe has been discussed, but only barely and benignly.  I found one piece in the Huffington Post giving him clothing advice for an important press conference (though the piece did not criticize Bernanke’s current clothing).  They also weighed in on his beard, which was deemed “well groomed.”

The New York Daily News, on the occasion of the announcement of Bernanke’s second nomination as Fed chair, noted the President’s and Bernanke’s dress, though uncritically:

“Obama and Bernanke – both dressed down in blue blazers, white shirts and no ties, as befitting this vacation isle…”

And an ABC News story about Bernanke’s second nomination noted Obama’s “open shirt and blazer,” but didn’t pay any heed to what Bernanke was wearing.

I’m not convinced that men get their clothing choices scrutinized as heavily as women, unless the man is wearing something goofy.  Women get it, regardless.  I did a pretty hefty analysis of this problem already in my earlier column about Ruemmler – do go check it out.

(I’m told that in order to actually see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me – so say the experts.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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32 Responses to “Is it really appropriate for Roll Call to comment on Fed nominee Janet Yellen’s clothing?”

  1. Paccana says:

    Not at all appropriate. Embarrassing really.

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  2. karmanot says:

    Not if you are born into the culture. I wore them well into my forties. But, I never wore them in business attire or formal occasions, where I agree that is ostentatious.

  3. BeccaM says:

    The detail that boggles my mind is the fact the standard business suit has not changed appreciably since the 1940s, aside from small details like cut, size of lapels, and fabric choices. Neckties have gotten thinner and thicker then back to medium — but those too are unchanged.

    As a woman, I’ve worn a lot of silly, impractical clothes over the years, but I have never understood the appeal of the tight collar with a knotted tie to constrict breathing, and the wearing of a jacket, regardless how warm the room is.

  4. The_Fixer says:

    Agreed on both counts.

    Personally, I think the standard business suit looks ridiculous. I don’t even own one. People have been conditioned to think they look good, when they really are kind of stupid. Neckties are dumb, why wear something so constrictive and that can be used as a strangulation device? Why wear a jacket on a warm day? Who came up with this dumb idea, and why do people put so much importance on it?

    Why is appearance so important? We’re told not to judge based on appearances, yet nearly everyone does. This woman wore a dress twice. Big deal. Judge her on her merits, not on her wardrobe.

  5. Jim Olson says:

    Double standard. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Can’t win no matter what. This sort of thing puts me into a murderous rage, if I pay attention closely enough.

  6. Jim Olson says:

    Any deviation from the standard business suit is considered too radical. Time was that men’s clothing was much more varied.

  7. Houndentenor says:

    Yes, it’s inappropriate. It’s also sexist.

  8. SkippyFlipjack says:

    The funny thing is that women generally get more comments on their clothing because they wear outfits with actual variety, as opposed to dark-suit-and-tie (well, and because of general sexism), but here she’s being criticized because she’s wearing the equivalent of a guy’s dark suit and tie each day. wtf.

  9. Hue-Man says:

    If you have the slightest doubt about the sexist double-standard, Google “Hillary Clinton pant suit”.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    I wouldn’t judge you in drag, John. In fact, I’d love to see it.

  11. Naja pallida says:

    Nominating a dead guy is actually one of Rand Paul’s better ideas. Not as damaging as pretty much everything else he wants to do.

  12. nicho says:

    I pretty much said quite the opposite. Please reread my post or, better still, have an adult read it to you.

  13. cole3244 says:

    sexism as racism are alive and well in america, i might add violence and murder to that list.

  14. emjayay says:

    No. That is the opposite of what nicho said. Obviously most jobs today are far more casual in terms of what clothes are acceptable than decades ago. Certain billionaire silicon valley guys wear a gray zip hoodie or a black sweater all the time. People in ad agencies don’t dress like Don Draper around the office.

    And the proper apparel for the situation discussion re: gutters etc. isn’t about Yellen. What she wore was fine and intended to not elicit comment and doesn’t deserve any.

  15. emjayay says:

    The common rule of thumb is to dress a notch up from the typical person you see at that place in the job you want.

  16. emjayay says:

    Actually Kathryn Ruemmler sexualized HERSELF. In an official formal group office photo just about every piece of her outfit was innappropriate to her position and the occassion and unflattering besides. I went on about that back then and guess what Becca M said: “Sadly, I agree with you: Ruemmler is an active collaborator in this sexism.” So there. Ha.

    But the Yellen clothes nonsense is of course just that. Alan Greenspan could have worn the same suit and tie every day for 50 years and no one would have noticed.

  17. BeccaM says:

    Yes, it’s sexist.

    Although I’d like to say it again: I’m sick to death of the ‘standard’ business suit. So boring to see every frickin’ guy wearing one.

  18. Whitewitch says:

    Someday, not in this millennium, women will be treated as equals…long after men of any vein are treated as equals. And all men came from some womb…and yet they hate us.

  19. Whitewitch says:

    Oh no this is not true is it Nicho…really – thanks for the early morning giggle.

  20. BillFromDover says:

    In other words, it’s all about the bucks in the threads ya can afford that now determine your qualifications?

    BTW, did she appear as she spent the night sleeping in a gutter, in your humble opinion, that is?

  21. BillFromDover says:

    Hey, what could possible be a more pertinent for qualification for somebody running the FED than the color of one’s garb or how ofter one chooses to change their socks?

    Not only is this disgusting, it is blatantly sexism.

  22. nicho says:

    I would pretty much stay away from any company whose executives appear in the annual report wearing cowboy boots. Unless you’re working on a ranch or are country-western dancing, cowboy boots are an affectation.

  23. nicho says:

    It is and it isn’t. If I am interviewing you for a job, you don’t need to be wearing a Saville Row suit. However, if you come in looking like you spent the night sleeping in a gutter, you’re probably not going to get the job. I don’t see a problem with that. I don’t think that’s a question of “drag.” That’s a question of how you present yourself to others. Your clothes don’t need to be expensive to be neat and presentable.

  24. Reaganomics destroyed Milton Friedman and his “Free To Be You and Me (sic!)” The Tea Baggies themselves would put Adam Smith into convulsions: Imagine that people don’t pursue their own interests but rather worship the wealthy. Holy Calvin Coolidge!

  25. ArthurH says:

    Regarding Ted Cruz’s cowboy boots, I’m reminded of an article in (I believe) BusinessWeek where they interviewed a successful Dallas stockbroker who spent the first 10 years of his adult life as a working cowboy in West Texas. Asked for advice on which companies to invest, he suggested looking at photos of the top executives in annual reports. Where executives are shown wearing decorative cowboy boots, he advised avoiding as anyone who would spend thousands of dollars on a boot that would fall apart in less than a day under working conditions on the range (whereas a plain but rugged $400 boot will last a year) are not to be trusted with your money.

  26. caphillprof says:

    We are all judged sexually. It’s just not put in print as it was in Roll Call (where it was beyond inappropriate).

  27. It is and it isn’t. In the case of men being judged, it’s not sexism, It’s that other issue I wrote about, about the vet who got the makeover, how we’re judged by our drag, by the way we look. The case with women is being judged sexually, and treated sexually, in a way that men are not. So yes it is different, but it also is judgment based on clothing, which is kind of dumb.

  28. nicho says:

    A much better story is that Rand Paul told the Wall Street Journal that he would have preferred that Obama name Milton Friedman over Janet Yellen. The horrified WSJ reporter had to tell Paul that Friedman has been dead for seven years. But that kind of tells you everything you need to know about Paul and his ideas.

  29. nicho says:

    Apples and oranges.

  30. Dirt Works says:

    Men are judged by their clothing too. Happens to me all the time since I don’t own a suit and go everywhere as I am. Always have. The difference is, with men it’s never spoken out loud. They just deny you the loan or the job. Not sure which is worse. The silent rejection or the sexist outbursts.

  31. perljammer says:

    I could understand the outrage if Yellen’s dress was the subject of (or even noted in) a news story, but this was a gossip column, where vapidness and inanity reign. When can we expect to see a torrent of indignity over the content of Housewives of New Jersey?

  32. heimaey says:

    There is a double standard, and it’s a cheap blow. I suppose if you were to comment on a man’s wardrobe you’d be called a fag.

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