Breaking Free From the Power Suit

My, my, the Bush administration sure does seem to make fashion waves on its trips to Europe. First there was the shameful Cheney in his “Staff 2001″ knit hat and green, fur-trimmed parka at the Auschwitz ceremony. And now Condoleezza Rice is raising brows among cultural critics with her fashion pick for the Wiesbadan Army Airfield.

Washington Post style writer, Robin Givhan critiques:
“Rice’s coat and boots speak of sex and power — such a volatile combination, and one that in political circles rarely leads to anything but scandal. When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix! It is as though sex and power can only co-exist in a fantasy. When a woman combines them in the real world, stubborn stereotypes have her power devolving into a form that is purely sexual.”
“Rice challenges expectations and assumptions. There is undeniable authority in her long black jacket with its severe details and menacing silhouette…If there is any symbolism to be gleaned from Rice’s stark garments, it is that she is tough and focused enough for whatever task is at hand.”

While I’m still wrestling with Givhan’s critique, I’m struck by the fashion conundrum that powerful women are left to wrestle with. By breaking with her usual uniform — “a bland suit with a loose-fitting skirt and short boxy jacket with a pair of sensible pumps” — Rice got cast a dominatrix. While I personally think that the “power-suit” is an extremely unflattering look, why does breaking free of a two-piece suit imply sexual deviance? It seems that even in wardrobe choices, critics are eager to impose the virgin/whore dichotomy on women.
Any thoughts?

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