It was inevitable that Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic of the Washington Post, would set her sights on Elena Kagan and the verdict is in: Kagan doesn’t cross her legs like a proper lady and her clothes are too dowdy and boring, like the rest of Washington, D.C.
While Givhan appears to be happy that Kagan “put on rouge and lipstick for the formal White House announcement of her nomination,” the fashion critic of the Washington power crowd said Kagan “was tidy and conservative but with a generous sprinkling of frumpiness of the sort that federal Washington can’t resist.”
Ultimately, Givhan feels Kagan has taken “the anti-style offensive several steps further” than previous nominees by embracing the look of a woman who is 50 years old, and not in a Cougar Town or Kim Cattrall-kind of way.
The final assessment: “Bland equals responsible. Matronly equals trustworthy.”
Even worse, it seems, Kagan refuses to cross her legs even when in the presence of a proper lady. Here’s Givhan’s assessment of the Kagan slouch:
In the photographs of Kagan sitting and chatting in various Capitol Hill offices, she doesn’t appear to ever cross her legs. Her posture stands out because for so many women, when they sit, they cross. People tend to mimic each other’s body language during a conversation, especially if they’re trying to connect with one another. But even when Kagan sits across from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has her legs crossed at the knees, Kagan keeps both feet planted firmly on the ground. Her body language will not be bullied into conformity.
She does not cross her legs at the ankles either, the way so many older women do. Instead, Kagan sits, in her sensible skirts, with her legs slightly apart, hands draped in her lap. The woman and her attire seem utterly at odds. She is intent on being comfortable. No matter what the clothes demand. No matter the camera angle.
Ultimately, Givhan appears to think that– horror of horrors– Kagan just doesn’t care that much what people think of her appearance even when she knows the camera is on her.
Givhan is famous for her fashion assessment of Washington, which is often called “Hollywood for Ugly People.” When she won her 2006 Pulitzer, her entries included praise for Condoleezza Rice’s fashion sense– especially the boots— but dismissal of Dick Cheney’s decision to wear a puffy coat at a Russian event in the middle of winter. She’s a talented writer who tries to use fashion as a metaphor for larger social questions.
In the case of Kagan, one of those questions is what her clothes and slump say about the lesbian rumors that continue to circle Kagan, given her frumpy look and short hair:
Tied up in the assessment of style — Kagan’s or anyone else’s — is the awkward, fumbling attempt to suss out precisely who a person is. For Kagan, that means folks are using fashion as a limited tool for making sense of her sexual orientation (Well, she’s 50, a bit plain and never married!) and then going on to the larger question of whether being gay or not matters on the high court. (Doesn’t everything matter — including whether one has a small-town background or an inner-city one — in how one interprets the world?)
Kagan’s look, Givhan suggests, doesn’t fit the usual lesbian “archetypes” of “the Birkenstock-wearing, crunchy granola womyn” or “the short-haired, androgynous type” or even “the glamorous, lipstick-wearing Portia de Rossi girl.”
Instead, it appears, Kagan slaps on a little makeup, tosses on a dull frock, and refuses to cross her legs.
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