Why Ashley Judd Could Be the Best Thing to Happen to Capitol Hill Style

If she runs for Senate, she might just free female politicians from the power suit.

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Politico recently reported that Ashley Judd, glamorous movie star, feminist essayist and eighth-generation Kentuckian, is considering a 2014 run for the Senate against Mitch McConnell. There’s been no formal announcement yet, but Judd is talking over the idea with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as well as Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY).

With her impassioned, globally-minded beliefs in women’s rights and her experience as a Tennessee delegate to the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, Judd has the potential to be a charismatic leader. But what kind of style would she bring to Capitol Hill? It might seem a silly concern at first, but what she wears could actually lead to a more expansive definition of female power.

As it stands now, the look of female political strength is very limited. The first lady, as a symbolic and non-elected official, can get away with more sartorial fun, but nearly every other female presence in Washington has been locked into a fuddy-duddy style since the 1990s: Helmet hair, stodgy power suits in pant or skirt version, maybe some grandmotherly pearls. It’s a look based on men’s attire that all but strips away their sexuality by downplaying the feminine form – as if womanly attributes might interfere with leadership, or run counter to the very notion. 

Why did Washington women have to cross the aisle, so to speak, to define their own authoritative style? By and large, powerful women still make people uncomfortable, so female politicians have sought validity by looking more like the traditional idea of a man than the traditional idea of a woman. But maybe Judd could bring some fresh moves into the lockstep.

Over the years, Judd’s style has ranged from red-carpet glitz to updated Southern belle. She’s favored face-framing curls and bodice-hugging dresses. No one is suggesting she wear a plunging neckline for her first Senate committee hearing, but what if she did wear a dress that was “soft” instead of “powerful” like the one she’s wearing to the right?

What if traditionally feminine clothes signaled not a woman who could be steamrolled over but a woman who’s in charge? A stunningly tailored suit is never a bad move (and here’s one we recommend for Judd) but capable women should be commanding in anything they wear – floral pattern or pin stripes.

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