Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dress for success - the French way

It’s not easy being a powerful woman. Ask any of us in higher management positions.
Apart from performance pressure, we are also judged on our looks and outfits. Our male counterparts can show up in the same boring business suits day after day, growing beer bellies and losing their hair – but not us! We have to be “representative” without being “provocative”.
It’s the female powerhouses that get the most heat: Oprah has been ridiculed for her weight swings and fashion sense, while Dr. Phil Phony can be shabbily dressed and pudgy. Hillary Clinton is made fun of due to her trademark pantsuits, while Obama can drape his lanky frame with the same old, same old boring suit – go figure.
So I admire women in power that don’t give a damn and do as they please, especially if they are politicians with non-stop media scrutiny.
In the US, Condoleezza Rice is pushing the envelope in contrast to first lady Laura Bush.
In Europe, the only country where female politicians have this “je ne sais quoi” is not Italy (the Mecca of the Alta Moda), but France.
The most glamorous of the bunch is Rachida Dati (yes, that’s IS her real family name!) France’s Minister of Justice who, in her early forties, flatly refuses to go dowdy. When criticized for her addiction to designer rags, she replied that as the high-achieving daughter of poor immigrants, she had earned her Dior dresses. Way to go, amica!
Let’s face it, if Robespierre cum suis would have been female, they would have added “élégance” to liberté, égalité and fraternité (and less well-coiffed heads would have been severed).
Ms. Dati is the darling of her boss, French president Sarkozy who refers to her as “ma beurette” (French slang for a female immigrant from the Maghreb region -Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and not for “my little buttercup”).
But she is not the only glam puss - Christine Lagarde, France’s Finance and Employment Minister favors Chanel for state events, while the Senegalese-born Human Rights Minister, Rama Yade, likes to be decked out in Yves Saint Laurent.
And trust me; all of them are taken seriously!
We all know that clothes maketh the man – just take a look at the rigid power dressing code in ancient Rome. And the same applies to women – just ask Angela Merkel when she was running for Prime Minister.

For now, we less high-profiled women have to keep the delicate balance at work between excelling at our job while dressing as we please.
I just wish I was a French cabinet minister…..and being able to borrow haute couture!

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