The Real Style Bully: Robin Givhan

June 21st, 2010 12:51 PM

At first blush, it seems as if this item might be one to file under "It Takes One to Know One." That would be wrong; the circumstances are too different.

Carly Fiorina took what she thought was a private swipe (which might not even have been a swipe at all, as noted at the end of this post) at Barbara "Don't Call Me Ma'am" Boxer's hairdo as being "so yesterday." The comment was captured by a live microphone.

The Washington Post's Robin Givhan writes widely-read columns on fashion, and has all the time in the world to consider the temperance, or lack thereof, of her critiques before they are published.

Given Givhan's situation and history, the WaPo fashion editor's characterization of Fiorina as a "style bully" (HT to Ann Althouse) is especially galling. If anyone has a track record of style bullying, it's Givhan, whose targets unsurprisingly are often conservatives and Republicans.

Sticking to the hair-raising subject at hand, the Media Research Center documented Givhan's given tendencies in an April 15, 2005 item:

Givhan ... today attacked UN Ambassador designate John Bolton: “His attire was not merely bland but careless. His hair was so poorly cut, it bordered on rude.” She wisecracked that Bolton’s locks looked like he had “shaken his hair dry in the manner of an Afghan hound.” His mustache looked ”like it should be attached to geek glasses and a rubber nose.”

... go back to a July 9, 2004 Post article on candidate hair, and you start wondering how much her critiques are tilted by her politics.

  • George W. Bush “has enough hair to fully cover his head, but it is a dull gray thatch that is unremarkable and never seems to glisten even when he is standing in direct sunlight.”
  • Dick Cheney “has thinning white hair, and the few strands that are there are so lacking in body and bounce that in the presidential hair wars, they don't even register as wisps.”
  • John Kerry’s “hair may have turned silver, but he has arrived at age 60 seemingly without having lost a strand. What man wouldn't gloat, just a little?”
  • John Edwards makes Givhan’s heart pitter-patter, writing in one ardent passage that his “hair has regularly been referred to as a mop, but that suggests that it is messy or unkempt. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has a precise haircut with artfully clipped layers. His hair is a beautiful shade of chocolate brown with honey-colored highlights. It is not particularly long, but it is smooth and shiny. It is boyish hair not because of the style but because it looks so healthy and buoyant and practically cries out to be tousled the same way a well-groomed golden retriever demands to be nuzzled.”

Robin's rendition of the Breck Girl's allegedly magnificent mane is more than enough to make one's hair stand on end.

Givhan infamously went after then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2000 during Al Gore's and the Democratic Party's attempt to steal the 2000 presidential election, even attempting a connection between her appearance and her political temperament (text was obtained from library database; bolds are mine):

Her lips were overdrawn with berry- red lipstick--the creamy sort that smears all over a coffee cup and leaves smudges on shirt collars. Her skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of pre-war walls in need of a skim coat. And her eyes, rimmed in liner and frosted with blue shadow, bore the telltale homogenous spikes of false eyelashes. Caterpillars seemed to rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid, with every downward glance to double-check--before reading--her most recent "determination."

Hers were not the delicate individual lashes that can be used to fill out sparse hairs and give the eyes a lush canopy. Instead, they were the lashes of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner or Peggy Moffitt, the '60s model famed for her mod style and huge lashes. They were cartoon lashes. Lashes destined for a "Saturday Night Live" skit.

The cruel took to calling her the dragon lady, and it quickly became clear that her 15 minutes of fame would be spent as the butt of jokes from late-night comics, morning talk show hosts and the Internet millions.

By the time folks finished deriding her makeup, they couldn't stop the momentum. They went on to the clothes. Hate the suit. Hate the buttons. Hate you.

... One of the reasons Harris is so easy to mock is because she, to be honest, seems to have applied her makeup with a trowel. At this moment that so desperately needs diplomacy, understatement and calm, one wonders how this Republican woman, who can't even use restraint when she's wielding a mascara wand, will manage to use it and make sound decisions in this game of partisan one-upmanship.

Besides, she looks bad--not by the hand of God but by her own. She took fashion--which speaks in riddles, hyperbole and half-truths--at its word, imbibing all of those references to the '70s and '80s, taking styling cues from Versace ads in which models are made up as if by a mortician's assistant, believing the magazines when they said that blue eye shadow was back. She failed to think for herself. Why should anyone trust her?

If Givhan has ever similarly gone after a shabbily attired or poorly put-together Democratic or liberal woman to the point of alleging that it affects the wisdom of her decision-making, I'm not aware of it.

Althouse's take on the Fiorina incident ultimately but silently accuses Givhan of insensitivity directed at cancer survivors:

It's a bit hard to tell unless you look for it (in the video at the link--Ed.), but I'm looking after hearing a friend, a cancer survivor who lost her own hair, insist that what we are seeing is a cancer survivor's humorous attitude about hair.

I now think that Fiorina stopped in the middle of an anecdote when someone off camera signaled for her to shut up, but that if she had gone on, she would have made a self-effacing/sarcastic wisecrack about her own hair along the lines of: Oh, yes, because my hair is so today, if by "today," you mean not utterly bald.

The gesture she makes at her own hair, just before she clams up, is not, I think, a mean girl's I'm-so-gorgeous primp. It's comic business that would have fit amusingly with the wisecrack that was never cracked. My friend, a woman who, like Fiorina, has recently regrown hair, feels sure she has the ability to recognize a shared dark humor about hair that women who have not gone through the experience don't pick up on. Hair is a big deal to women, and our ears perk up when we hear talk about other women's hair. Givhan explores that with good sensibility, but I think she, like many others, is judging Fiorina without a full understanding of the context.

Nice and insightful observations, Ann. Bully for you.

Cross-posted at