The XX Factor

Supreme Makeover

During the contretemps over Elena Kagan’s posture and fashion sense, I have sometimes wondered whether gleeful photo editors were going out of their way to find the less flattering photos of her. Everybody has good days and bad days, and the photo eds seem to doggedly focus on the days when her best outfits may have been at the dry cleaners. So it’s hard to know whether the lovely, stylish image of Kagan that ran today-looking well-coiffed, feminine, belted, accessorized, decorous yet faintly flirty, and most of all, exuberantly happy-represents the photo eds making amends by showing the kind of image of her that they have, in fact, had access to all along, or whether the nominee, in the face of public pressure, went out and did some shopping.

If the latter is the case-if, tired of seeing the word “frumpy” attached to her name, perhaps worried that a Google search of the word might actually call up her Wikipedia page, Kagan took time over the weekend to duck into Barney’s or Nordstrom-I, for one, would not blame her. Purists might. Some might prefer her to remain defiantly frumpy, true to herself, etc., in the face of the public critique. You’ve got to admit, though-if you were going to be engaging in this particular set of high-level interviews, with photos of yourself showing up in the paper every day, and if people were going to be studying your attire with the energy ordinarily reserved for a challenging painting or modernist text, then wouldn’t you seek an opportunity to do a little wardrobe freshening? I would. I have always thought that maxim of Thoreau’s-beware of all enterprises that require new clothes-is exactly wrong. Part of the whole point of a new enterprise is that it gives you an excuse to get a new suit or dress, definitely some shoes, and feel like you are moving ahead in life, sartorially as well as professionally. Even if you go to the job interview and don’t get the job, you’ve still got the shoes, and that’s some consolation.

Of course, come to think of it, along with transcendentalist philosopher, Supreme Court justice is probably the enterprise least likely to require new clothing, and in that sense, maybe, represents Thoreau’s ideal. The justices can conceivably wear anything under their robes, right? Gym clothes? Hiking shorts? As long as they have suitable shoes and socks or stockings and a nice cravat, that’s all that matters? Like bloggers, they could conceivably wear pajamas? Kind of too bad, actually, to go out and get such a nice suit and not have anybody see it. No wonder Kagan is making the most of it now. Soon enough, likely as not, she’ll have the last laugh when fashion scrutiny becomes, in her case, as in that of the other justices, all but impossible.