Washington Post fashion reporter Robin Givhan, usually so kind to the fashionably liberal, can’t muster a thumbs-up on Friday as she discussed Hillary Clinton showing cleavage Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. She set the scene: "The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable."
But Givhan wrote that after Hillary’s spent so many years in the spotlight avoiding a sexy look, it’s profoundly unsettling: "It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!"
She’s not saying the sight is disgusting. As she tries to explain at length after those surprising sentences, Hillary's fashion ambivalence makes all the difference:
With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.
To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever.
UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez says she predicted the Givhan bit on The Corner a year ago. (Except it wasn't a rave about her sexiness advantage, K-Lo....)