The One Who Wears the Pants

I’m not sure if this is Hillary Clinton’s first white pantsuit but I’m pretty sure it’s her favorite. She wore it to the Pritzker Prize ceremony which was held at the White House in 1998.

How do I know it’s her favorite?

I found this picture at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, up on the third floor where you can see the gifts of state and pictures of the family life, the less important stuff that doesn’t belong in the sweeping chronological and topical exhibits on the floor below. It was the last morning of the 3700 mile road trip that took me to the edge of America and back in late August and early September, and I wasn’t expecting to see Hillary Clinton in a white pantsuit. Honestly, I was trying to get away from that.

Driving is one of the best ways to avoid news and memes and collective freak outs, a place where I’m free to listen to local radio and wonder about the geography that makes our country the place it is. I followed rivers and trails and trade routes instead of polls and pundits and twitterstorms. Mazie and I almost pulled under a bridge in Oklahoma but the weather passed right before it got too scary to drive. That was the most frightening thing that happened along the way.

Someone had the task of reviewing thousands of photographs of state dinners and special events to find just the right ones to display in the permanent exhibit. They culled and considered which ones would show what the Clinton White House was like, from the perspective of a history that looks favorably on what happened there, a time of great challenges and achievements, a changing of the guard generationally, the final years of what we proudly then called the American century.

In my imagination, the final decision of which pictures would go up was Hillary’s. Not that she spent hours on it. No, she was busy being the junior senator from New York. She didn’t have a lot of time for looking at pictures from a recent painful time. But nothing gets past Hillary Clinton’s eye. She must have seen it and said, “That one, for sure.”

When I saw this photograph, just weeks after the convention, I had to take a picture of it. Here was proof that the white pantsuit was more than a symbol. I’d known it the second I saw her come out to give her acceptance speech. We didn’t need a press release to explain the symbolism. The way she wore it said it all. Up on that stage, Hillary Clinton looked like herself, her most beautiful self. Here in this photograph, we see that same beauty, in her first incarnation as the country’s most powerful woman.

I’ve always looked down at her pantsuits as the uniform of the women lawyers of the generation before mine, the Baby Boomers who broke ceilings and endured isolation and then judged my generation’s decisions to wear short skirts to the office or stay home with our kids. It’s been a struggle with them all along. But this picture showed me something new about wearing a pantsuit. About choosing to wear the pants.

If you belong in pants, you belong in pants. You belong in pants at the office. You belong in pants at home. You belong in pants at a formal gala at the White House. You belong in pants on the biggest stage you will ever command, be that a national convention or the eve of an election or an inauguration. You wear them because you are the one who wears the pants.