Hil­lary as ladies’ fash­ion leader. Who knew?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

No­body has ac­cused Hil­lary Clin­ton of set­ting an ex­am­ple of how to dress for suc­cess, and cer­tainly not for fun. She’s clearly no Me­la­nia Trump. But she may be as­sist­ing the Chi­nese in bring­ing back “the Mao suit.” She prob­a­bly shouldn’t ex­pect a stand­ing ova­tion from men.

That should suit her, so to speak, just fine. She of­ten echoes the fem­i­nist line that women shouldn’t have to bear men look­ing at them. Who can see a bril­liant mind un­der a tu­nic but­toned to the chin, ac­com­pa­nied by baggy pants that might hide who knows what.

The Mao suit, or what the Chi­nese call “the Zhong­shan suit,” was orig­i­nally meant to cover “the class­less so­ci­ety,” and it makes a come­back from time to time in China. Hil­lary’s Mao suit, though mod­i­fied, does not hide or dis­guise its ori­gins. It looks like it was de­signed in New York or even Paris (mean­ing it prob­a­bly costs a lot, de­spite the cut of its jib), but it’s still a Mao suit, so far with­out the win­ter quilt ef­fect once fash­ion­able in Tianan­men Square (with­out the tanks) .

When Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was guest of honor at a state din­ner in the Nether­lands he wore what the state-run China Daily called “an el­e­gant dark-blue Mao suit,” and gushed that “Zhong­shan suit makes a come­back.” One com­men­ta­tor said it was a sign of “na­tional au­thor­ity, na­tional pride and na­tional rit­ual.” That was a decade and more ago, but time moves slowly in the An­cient King­dom. Hil­lary and her dress­maker couldn’t have imag­ined it bet­ter.

The pros­per­ous young in China don’t want to have any­thing to do with the cam­paign to bring back the Mao suit, though if Hil­lary is elected pres­i­dent of the United States they might change their minds. Aping Amer­i­can fads and fash­ions is a world­wide ob­ses­sion. Mao suits are avail­able on the In­ter­net for $149.95. Hil­lary’s prob­a­bly cost more than that, though who could tell?

The suit be­came sort of fash­ion­able among the left-wing in­tel­lec­tu­als in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Marx­ism was in flower, and af­ter the hor­rors of the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion came to light Hol­ly­wood made the Mao suit in­fa­mous in the James Bond movies, par­tic­u­larly with Ernst Stavro Blofield, a car­i­ca­ture of evil. He, too, craved to dom­i­nate ev­ery­one.

When Mao took over China in 1949 he pre­scribed the Mao suit as an al­ter­na­tive to both the Western busi­ness suit and the Manchu robe, each with waste­ful or feu­dal­is­tic con­no­ta­tions. The Mao suit was util­i­tar­ian. Nearly ev­ery­one could af­ford one, and the cut dis­guised any hint of what lay be­neath. No sex, please, not any­more. Hasn’t China had enough of that? The suit came in pale blue, green and gray. Chair­man Mao’s usu­ally had four pock­ets, rep­re­sent­ing the four car­di­nal prin­ci­ples of the Chi­nese Book of Changes: Pro­pri­ety, jus­tice, hon­esty and a sense of shame. Not ex­actly a suit for Hil­lary, one might say.

Still, ev­ery­one had to wear one to avoid stand­ing out in the crowd, and in China, a crowd was re­ally a crowd. It be­came the uni­form of the Red Guards, who set out to de­stroy an­cient and clas­sic Chi­nese cul­ture, and made a lot of head­way. If they knew what was good for them, men and women dressed to be ser­vice­able and sex­less, mak­ing the world safe for fem­i­nists. Per­haps this was the rough in­spi­ra­tion for the slob look that even­tu­ally be­came the norm in much of the West, as any fre­quent flyer could tell you.

Mao imag­ined that his pre­scribed dress would in­tro­duce the class­less so­ci­ety, but even he couldn’t elim­i­nate the no­tion that rank has its priv­i­leges. The pe­ons got a Mao suit of rough and coarse cot­ton, which gave them the plea­sure of scratch­ing. Pe­ons didn’t get much else. Mid­dle man­agers got polyester, surely more pun­ish­ment than re­ward, and the top of the line party ex­ec­u­tives got a lux­u­ri­ous wool.

Af­ter Mao died in 1976 the ap­peal of the Mao suit be­gan to fade, though not ev­ery­where. The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York mounted an ex­hi­bi­tion of what it called “Western fan­tasies about China through fash­ion.” The Mao jacket, the cu­ra­tor told The Wash­ing­ton Post, was “the last sar­to­rial sym­bol of China. Sub­se­quently, no other item of cloth­ing screams China.”

Hil­lary’s pants suits some­times scream, too, par­tic­u­larly when she marches stiffly into a room, or on to a de­bate stage. Nev­er­the­less, she may res­cue the Mao suit a sec­ond time, and give it legs — thick, sturdy legs to take it to unimag­ined heights of fash­ion. That’s only if she wins. If the Don­ald pre­vails — the post-de­bate polls sug­gest he’s not done yet — the Me­la­nia look is likely to pre­vail. She would look good even in a pants suit. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.


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