Whether you liked the tone of Julia Gillard’s address to the US Congress or you thought it was an “unnecessary suck“, you can’t deny that she made some powerful statements. Her insistence that Trade = Jobs was a clear signal to Congress that a policy of trade with Australia would be of more benefit in the long run to the US economy than the protectionist farming subsidies that are currently under consideration.
The other powerful statement of course was the flaming red/orange (let’s call it vermilion?) jacket that she wore for the speech. It had such a visual impact, drawing the eye straight to her, guaranteeing she was the focus. It was so bright that it dulled the red in her own hair, and it also occurred to me that it was near enough to ‘Labor red’ to count as an attempt at branding.
Why am I so interested in Julia’s clothes?
I recently watched a TED Talk given by Madeleine Albright about being a woman and a diplomat. She told an excellent story about how and why she started using her jacket pins (or brooches) to symbolise her stance and attitude while she was Secretary of State. It’s a fascinating idea. On one hand of course so infuriating that women have to pay such close attention to their costume while men’s choices in business attire very rarely attracts a second glance. This only goes so far though – I guarantee that if a dude showed up to address congress in a bright red jacket, we’d be talking about it!
But the potential for using costume intentionally to codify our position or beliefs…I can’t say that I would rather we all wore grey suits cut from virtually the same cloth. And in this increasingly visual age isn’t it natural for us to increasingly draw on visual codes and conventions to communicate meaning?
If you haven’t come across Madeleine Albright’s talk before, I recommend it. It’s a 13 minute long interview and contains one of my new favourite quotes of all time:
There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.