The XX Factor

This Absurd Advice on What Women Should Wear Circulated at Michael Flynn’s Agency

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at Trump Tower in New York City on Nov. 17, 2016.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Makeup helps women look more attractive,” but “too much makeup distracts from a professional look.” That’s according to a “Dress for Success” presentation circulated at the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2013, when retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn headed the agency. President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Flynn to be his top national security adviser.

In February 2013, U.S. News & World Report published excerpts from the slide deck, which offered women a ranked list of the best outfits to wear, with skirts and dresses at the top. and told them to paint their nails and avoid flat shoes. “Conservative approach always best,” but also, “do not advocate the ‘Plain Jane’ look,” the presentation read.

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As far as makeup, a woman should “wear just enough to accentuate your features.” When considering her body shape and size, she should “accentuate the positive/disguise the negative.” Women shouldn’t wear anything that could “stand out as flamboyant, gaudy, attention-drawing,” and for that matter, “brunettes can wear more intense colors than blonds can.”

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Men got tips, too. Belts should be “not very wide nor extremely narrow.” Neck jewelry and earrings have a “negative impact” on a man’s overall look. Cuff links are great. And, perhaps most important, “suspenders = elegance.”

Susan Strednansky, then the DIA’s public affairs officer, told U.S. News at the time that the presentation came from an informal, non-mandatory event an employee put together for fellow agency members. “I’m not going to deny that it exists, and it was bad. It was inappropriate for sure,” Strednansky said. “Neither the agency nor the leadership has condoned anything that was in that briefing.”

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It is both unsettling and unbelievable that an employee could give an internal briefing at an intelligence outfit without leadership or agency knowledge. But Flynn maintained that he was as incensed by the presentation as any of the employees who complained. After getting word of internal pushback, he wrote an email to agency staff about the unsolicited advice on garment color and fit. “First, I apologize to the entire workforce for the unnecessary and serious distraction of this ‘Dress for Success’ briefing that I became aware of in the last 24 hours,” he wrote. “I’ve now seen it and I too find it highly offensive.”

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“Focusing on how to dress is simply not as important as focusing on our mission (and our values,) which are vital to our nation’s defense,” he continued. “Neither the agents nor I condone this briefing and I only hope the intention to execute this task was pure of heart and intended to help … but even smart people do dumb things sometimes.”

Luckily for the What Not to Wear fan who put the slide deck together, Flynn did not consider the ill-advised presentation a capital offense. “No one is going to be taken to the wood shed over this,” he wrote. “They’ll require some counseling (to be sure) on what it means to think before you act. I trust that this is what happened in this case. Enough said.”

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