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Hillary Clinton reveals why she started wearing her now-famous pantsuits

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Hillary Clinton reveals why she started wearing her now-famous pantsuits

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About a month after first lady Hillary Clinton returned from a whirlwind state trip through Latin America, a bit of chaos hit the White House.

“All of a sudden, the White House gets alerted to these billboards that show me sitting down with, I thought, my legs together, but the way it’s shot, it’s sort of suggestive,” Clinton told CBS Evening News of the 1995 trip.

A Brazilian ad agency, having seen a press photo of Clinton sitting on a couch and wearing a skirt during her visit to the country, had used the picture in a lingerie campaign. “In this case, we want to say that daring women don’t mind letting their panties be seen,” Silvio Matos, the ad agency’s director, said at the time.

Clinton did mind. The former secretary of state and U.S. senator revealed in the interview broadcast on Sunday that her unintentional starring role in that ad led to perhaps her biggest sartorial decision — she started wearing pantsuits. And for the next 27 years, she kept wearing them, inextricably tying her public image to the outfit.

She and her supporters have come to embrace it. Her 2016 presidential campaign sold “The Everyday Pantsuit Tee,” a riff on the tuxedo T-shirt. On the back of the $30 shirt: “Pantsuit up.”

The description might have disappointed shoppers looking to re-create Clinton’s entire look: “Pantsuit bottoms not included.”

In early October 2016, about month before the presidential election in which Clinton would lose to Donald Trump, two women organized 170 dancers to stage a #Pantsuitpower flashmob at New York’s Union Square as a way of bringing “some kind of humanity to her campaign, because I think humanity and love and humor tend to get lost when we’re in the heat of all of this,” choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall told The Post at the time.

‘Pantsuit Power’ flashmob video for Hillary Clinton: Two women, 170 dancers and no police

A couple weeks later, Clinton fan Libby Chamberlain launched a Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation” as a way to get other supporters to wear pantsuits when they voted. More than 1.9 million people joined the invite-only group in its first 2½ weeks of existence. Some of the older women in the group posted about having to push social boundaries earlier in their careers to even wear pantsuits at work instead of skirts, The Post reported at the time.

Not everyone was a fan of Clinton’s fashion. In 2011, Tim Gunn criticized her look, suggesting Clinton dressed like “she’s confused about her gender.” Gunn, a fashion consultant known for his role mentoring designers on “Project Runway,” said that, while he had great respect for Clinton’s intellect, he wished, as the nation’s chief diplomat, “she could send a stronger message about American fashion.”

That comment led one of Clinton’s top aides at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, to fire off an email with the subject line “Tim Gunn, talking smack …” In the body, Mills included a ThinkProgress article with the headline “Tim Gunn May Know Style, But He Doesn’t Know Hillary Clinton, Diplomacy, Or Apparently, Much About Sexism.”

Clinton’s choices have influenced fashion, according to a 2020 Marie Claire article “The Enduring Legacy of Hillary Clinton’s Style.” Nanette Burstein, director of the 2020 documentary “Hillary,” called her switch to pantsuits “a cultural shift.”

“Yes, she’s not the first woman to wear a pantsuit in politics, or any sort of professional setting, but she was the first to really embrace it in a way as ‘her uniform,’ ” Burstein said.

Clinton alluded to that decision in the CBS interview. The October 1995 trip came in the middle of her husband’s first term when she “began to have the experience of having photographers [around] all the time.” She was going up onstage. She was climbing stairs. And they were below her, snapping away. She decided to make it easy.

“I just couldn’t deal with it,” Clinton said, “so I started wearing pants.”


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