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Power politics and the diplomacy of women in politics and what to wear


Charlie Wood
28 July 2020
Politics and Fashion

Never before has the media focused so intensely on women in power, analysing not just their leadership style but a woman’s right to govern and what she wears.

Fashion, Women & Power: The politics of Dress is a soon to released publication by the commissioning editor Dr Denise N Rall, a Southern Cross University Adjunct Research Fellow.

“The book brings together contributions by academics to offer a wide set of perspectives on women and their roles in powerful positions in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States,” Dr Rall explains.

“From the United States comes the troublesome media stories engulfing two significant American Democratic first ladies, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama. Closer to home the media- spotlight focuses on leaders including Julia Gillard, Julie Bishop and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“There was a dress for success movement in the 1970s when women adopted the business pants suit as they climbed the corporate ladder, but it backfired. Former first lady Hillary Clinton wore the wroth of the right-wing media labelling her fashion as masculine.”

The book also explores viewpoints from East Asia, such as the constricting role for ‘common’ women upon entering the Imperial family in Japan. It relates a variety of observations from 10 different contributors and takes the reader on a revealing journey down the catwalk of political fashion over the years.  

“When Julia Gillard began as Prime Minister the media focused on a beige trench coat she wore and later dumped and opting for more colourful alternative. But press called it “the technicolour scream coat” because it looked like a cheap motel bedspread,” said Dr Rall.

Dr Rall sums it up as fashion diplomacy and points to the rise of social media in generating what she describes as ’sensationalist controversy’.  

“It’s absurd that social media should judge a leader’s fashion instead of their policies. However, Julie Bishop and Jacinda Ardern are an exception to the rule, which might have something to do with the fact that they are slim and attractive.”

The COVID pandemic has delayed the publication of Fashion, Women & Power: The politics of Dress, it’s expected to be released in early 2021.

Associate Professor Grayson Cooke, Deputy Dean and Director of Research at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, acknowledged Dr Rall’s valuable fashion and textile contributions and observations as intricate and unique.

“As this book project shows, she inflects it with political weight and a sense of critique, referencing historical moments and asking questions about ge+nder and power, that are really important in Australia and internationally,” he said

Dr Rall teamed with artist Marina Tubbs and curator and writer Hamish Sawyer, to present informative insights at an online research seminar hosted by the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences on Tuesday 28 July 2020.