The XX Factor

Delightful Fashion Advice From Female Meteorologists (and Why They All Wear the Same Dress)

Why do all women give the weather report in this cheap dress?

Screenshot via Amazon

Over the weekend, for perhaps the first time in the history of the Internet, meteorologist fashion went viral. One woman posted an Amazon link to an inexpensive, brightly colored dress in a Facebook group for female TV meteorologists about a month ago. Since then, weather broadcasters all over the country have ordered it, making for a surreal aggregation of screenshots and photos that went wild on Reddit. Now, meteorologists on Twitter are talking about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress.

The dress costs around $23 on Amazon and $61 straight from the vendor, Homeyee, a China-based e-commerce site whose website is full of “lorem ipsum” placeholders and mistranslations. The low price point; wide variety of bright colors; stretchy fabric; and flattering, structured cut made it a shoo-in for meteorologists who need to build a high-volume wardrobe without, in most cases, an employer-provided clothing budget.

Meteorologists, it turns out, are hungry for clothing recommendations. Their jobs require clothes that are comfortable enough to move around in (the sweeping arms of a cold front! the quick steps of an incoming hurricane!), fancy enough for a TV broadcast, and cheap enough to buy more than one. “Sometimes what to wear is biggest stress of my job,” the Weather Channel’s Jen Carfagno told me over email. “Don’t look too old, or too young. Too tight will make you look like ready for the dance club. Too baggy will make you look frumpy. Black every day is boring. Patterns are tough with the lights and camera. Staying wrinkle-free is tough. How many styles of red dresses are there anyway?”

Heather Sophia of Mississippi News Now says the standard wardrobe for female meteorologists has changed a lot over the past decade. “When I landed my first TV job, I had two to three suits with a variety of blouses,” she told me. “Now, I have a closet full of dresses. I honestly can’t recall the last time I wore a suit on air.” Sophia thinks that women preferred suits in previous generations of broadcasting, when they felt pressure to look as authoritative as the men who dominated the industry. “As more and more females were hired and climbed the ladder, I believe dresses and clothes outside the suit became more acceptable with the same credibility,” she says. Now, dresses offer on-air women a way “to embrace their femininity.” 

The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams says the prevalence of dress-clad meteorologists is a sign of a more dressed-down society. And dresses, more than suits, are easily available in colors other than black, a color she calls “unfriendly.” A blue suit could be even worse. “For a while there, you had to be really careful with what color blues you wore, what color greens you wore,” Abrams says. Luckily, her network uses TV monitors instead of the blue or green screens that could make ill-dressed meteorologists disappear, although color is still a major concern. “Remember the gold/black/blue dress thing? That happens all the time,” Carfagno says. “I have about six purple dresses. They all look blue on TV.” Sophia is conscious of her dresses’ texture, too. “I don’t want my clothes to be a distraction from the weather story I’m telling, so I shy away from leather and anything with sequins … because it tends to reflect the light,” she says. 

Since meteorologists can’t plug their mics into a desk like anchors sometimes do, they have to wear something that can accommodate a bulky mic and earpiece communicator device. Carfagno wears hers on a strap around her thigh—like “a Bond girl,” she says—and Abrams tucks hers into her Spanx on her back; other women use a bra strap to keep it stable.

Viewers have registered their disapproval when Carfagno’s worn something they considered too tight; some have even asked if she was pregnant. “Then I generally take that outfit off frequent rotation,” she says. Abrams advises women to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable so they can focus on their jobs. Still, amateur opinions come in from all sides. “Nowadays with social media, [viewers] tell you everything you want to hear and not hear,” she says.

Carfagno says female meteorologists are always asking one another, “Who are you wearing?” According to Abrams, there’s no shame in copying a colleague’s dress as long as you buy it in a different color if you work at the same network. Pro tips are even more crucial when it comes to reporting in inclement weather. Abrams loves to share her secret to staying warm in rain and snow: She buys heating wraps and pads from the pharmacy and sticks them all over her body, then wears a wetsuit. She puts other heating pads in her jacket while she’s getting ready in the morning, so when she goes out into the storm, she’s “raging hot, sweating, like, you feel like you’re going to pass out.”

Freezing temperatures are a problem in the studio, too. Like many office buildings, the Weather Channel studio is colder for Abrams and the other women in dresses than it is for the men in suits. One of Abrams’ recent Instagram posts shows her and two other women wearing winter jackets and clutching a heating lamp during a commercial break while their male colleague claims sweaty armpits. (And yet the winter-unfriendly sheath dress remains queen on TV.)

Very few on-air meteorologists get wardrobe budgets, which can make for a substantial financial burden if they don’t shop wisely. “I love French Connection, but they can be pricey,” Sophia says. “I wait until their dresses go on clearance and when it’s marked an extra 30 to 40 percent off the clearance price.” She owns more than 100 dresses, each of which cost an average of $40 to $60, from clearance racks at outlets like Dillard’s, Saks Off 5th, Michael Kors, BCBG, J.Crew, and H&M; she finds January to be the cheapest month for dress-buying. “This month, I’ve spent about $250 on my wardrobe and came home with six dresses,” she says. “There are some female reporters/meteorologists that have worked out trades with clothing stores that will allow [them to] borrow an outfit in trade for a 10- to 15-second ad during the newscast.”

Abrams sees a silver lining to the hefty wardrobe demands. “You always have dresses for every event,” she says. She and one of her meteorologist friends, WABC’s Amy Freeze, swap dresses to keep things fresh. “I have, like, five of her dresses right now, and then I’ll give them back to her, she’ll take mine,” Abrams says. “We need to start this in our whole community with everyone who’s the same size.”