Meghan Markle, the divorcee from Los Angeles now engaged to Britain’s Prince Harry, is a lovely woman. But though the actress has ennobled herself as an advocate for women, she lives in the public eye as a character on “Suits.”
That’s unfortunate, because the cheesy TV series could serve as a primer on how women undermine their careers by the way they dress. Oh, there are other forces working against them in male-dominated industries, but how women present themselves should be an easy hurdle to cross.
“Suits” refers to the traditional business armor worn by the go-getters at a fictional high-style law firm. It’s about immaculate tailoring that hides body parts and, with it, physical imperfections. Suits speak of power.
In “Suits,” every man wears a suit to the office, but the women rarely do. They’re usually poured into tight-fitting dresses or, like Markle’s character, in snug blouses with buttons straining to hold it all together. Every female rear end is accentuated for male inspection.
There’s a gender issue in “Suits,” and it isn’t sexual harassment. By the way, sexual harassment is inexcusable no matter what the woman is wearing.
The issue is gravitas, or lack of it on the part of the women. The female characters are smart and tough, but their dress undermines these qualities. Suits let the men gracefully go gray, put on pounds and celebrate their 45th birthdays. The women without them disappear.
The men get the macho lines — “Start making us some real money, or go back to being a lawyer” — while the women tend to converse with kittenish innuendo. The contrast holds together because the women are dressed for submission.
That women sexualize themselves against their professional interests can be largely blamed on vendors of fashion. The last thing the industry wants is for working women to keep five good suits in their closet and call it a day — as many male executives do. Women headed that way in the 1970s and ’80s, but they had to be stopped. That’s why fashion executives continue to mock women’s suits as frumpy.
In a recent article titled “Shake Up Your Work Look,” Alison Loehnis, the head of Net-a-Porter, bashes pantsuits for women. In the typical language of phony empowerment, she urges women to “feel secure in making bold statements.”
“These Gianvito Rossi sandals are my perfect shoes,” Loehnis says of an $815 pair with 4-inch heels and an ankle strap suggestive of bondage. This was in The Wall Street Journal, of all places.
In “Suits,” the men stride across the office in flat footwear. The women mince in spike heels. Forget about even 2-inchers. No, the women in “Suits” must wear 3- or 4-inch stilettos.
Some bizarro manipulation of female opinion has turned spike heels into a symbol of power. Actually, they speak of immobility. They do make the butt look larger — also the breasts by forcing the back to arch. If that’s what a woman wants, there she has it. If she seeks to be noted for her smarts, she might reconsider.
The dresses on “Suits” are not trashy. They tend toward expensive European labels and fine fabrics. Only the tight fit makes them vulgar. Some of the sleeveless shift dresses worn in “Suits” would look fine at an outdoor cocktail party. But consider: How many naked male biceps have you seen in the executive suite?
As a royal family member in the making, Markle is presenting herself in a chic but dignified manner with shoes one can walk in. May she become an example to fashion victims everywhere. The female royals know all about tailored suits.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at email@example.com.