Revisiting Decorum: The CPAC Controversy

February 16, 2012 / 2:11 pm • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

Photo: Snooki at the Grammys. This is not business attire–unless your business is street walking or being provocative on the Grammy’s red carpet.

It didn’t strike me as particularly controversial to say that a business-political gathering calls for business attire generally or to say, specifically, don’t dress like a tramp. Here’s the link to the offending post.

Why is this controversial?

Well, some objected to me using the words “whore” or “slutty” to describe the dress. The language was provocative but no more provocative than the dress, itself, which was the point. Do young women want to be seen first as a sex object? If the answer is yes, then dress that way.

To be clear, the vast majority of women dressed beautifully at CPAC. Look at how awesome conservative women looked here. Enough poorly dressed women got my attention, and a guy brought it up to me (and then a girl did) at the convention, and then I read Erick’s post about young men, and all this was on the heels of an event I took my daughter to recently, that I decided to write about the phenomenon. Altogether, I came to the conclusion that firstly, we are doing a poor job teaching proper decorum to the next generation and secondly, these young women won’t have the benefit of being long forgotten fashion fails. Social media will capture it for all posterity.

Young people need to be more careful these days to maintain their reputations than those of my generation.

I should have divided my post, had I to do it again, because I was really talking about two things: social behavior and sartorial behavior. They are correlated, but not causative. That is, dressing sleazy does not necessarily mean one is a sleaze. That impression can be taken though, and can be detrimental to a woman’s professional and personal opportunities.

It may surprise people to know that I don’t particularly care about fashion in the abstract. I don’t pay attention to it. Women who pull off pulled-together consistently have my full respect. It’s not easy. I’ve referred to myself as fashion-unconscious.

Decorum, though, does matter, and when not one or two outliers, but groups of women seem to be so clueless that even I notice, it might be a problem. So I wrote about it.

This was not a prescriptive post. That is, I wasn’t telling people to wear such and such. It was proscriptive. That is, don’t do this.

Some men lamented that I recommend the coverage of cleavage. Some men were relieved. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that women should be aware of their effect on men and to be respectful. And even I noted that women will show a little bit and can be tasteful, but too much is too much. Who is to say what’s too much? Well, that takes judgment, discernment, and that’s what seems to be lacking.

Some folks worried that even mentioning decorum would discourage young people from getting involved. The mohawk-wielding, Fingers Malloy said that he thought the GOP was too uptight as it is, fashion-wise. Probably. But I never said to be uptight or nunnish but to dress to suite the situation. To be respectful.

And since I’m here, I may as well go all the way. Some of the young men and women I’m writing about didn’t look edgy fashion-wise–they looked unkempt. They looked like they needed showers.

Personal hygiene, being schooled in basic etiquette, knowing where to wear what, are all foundational to being respectful of those around you. I’ve caught a couple episode of What Not To Wear, and repeatedly, the hosts are stressing being respectful by dressing and grooming in a manner appropriate to the situation. They don’t ask people to give up their essential selves. They ask that the people be their best selves.

And really, that was my whole point: Young ladies, those few who this was written to, being their best, pulled-together selves is simply respectful to themselves and to their friends, their co-workers, and the environment. What you wear, how you wear it, and in what situation you wear it does provoke a reaction from people either good, bad or neutral. To pretend that people don’t judge is just silly. They do.

On Twitter, I gave examples of women who are beautiful and even edgy and sexy but not overtly sexual or sleazy. There’s a line. We all seem to know the difference. Well, Michelle Malkin, Dana Loesch, Pamela Gellar, Abby Alger and Tina Korbe are all unique and uniquely beautiful, tasteful, and sartorially pleasing, as just a few examples.

As to the latter, Robert Stacy McCain, decided to link-whore (there’s that word again) on my previous post and took the opportunity to be vile to Tina Korbe. There is no excuse for what he wrote. Please read Katie Pavlich’s thorough evisceration. He was wrong and came across as a sexist pig. Tina is an example of what TO do. That she sat down, and her skirt hiked up, and that someone captured it and pointed it out is classless. All women in a skirt (even ones that go to your knees), can empathize with her situation. The people publishing the photo should be embarrassed. [It just makes me angry that I’m playing into what Stacy really wants, which is for someone, anyone, to link to and read his blog.]

Hopefully, this clarifies things. There’s a line between stylish and even sexy, and sleazy and kinda dirty. Women who dress the latter at a business or politics conference shouldn’t be surprised when people judge them. Some ladies do this knowing the effect and being happy for it. More women though, are unaware of the impression they’re leaving and would like to be seen differently. For those women, a knowledgable Department Store worker can be a huge help. I know I have one. She calls me when she thinks something would be good, since I’ve told her my job. Being fashion stupid doesn’t mean one has to violate decorum. It just means one has to work harder.

Here’s a link to good advice. There’s more at the link.

Oh, and since I’ve irritated everyone, I’ll address the social behavior in another post.

  • “It shouldn‚Äôt be controversial to say that women should be aware of their effect on men and to be respectful.”It shouldn’t be but it is. I vividly recall a management training class I was in back in the mid 90s on sexual harassement. The usual subjects were addressed including provocative attire. The instructor, an elderly woman, asked the class why men would view a provocatively attired woman as a sex object. There were probably 30 or so people in the class and you could have heard a pin drop as she waited for an answer. I finally spoke up and said, “well I’ll say it, testosterone”. To my astonishment, she barked back a “no, it is because Madison Avenue conditions men to think that way about women”.
    For those who don’t understand the point, that instructor was very, very wrong.

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  • Anonymous

    You irritated??!?!? Hey, at least I made it back on Memeorandum. ūüôā

    I was called a Prude and “Fashion police” Me? ha! ūüôā¬†

  • @MelissaTweets:twitter¬†,¬† I think it may be possible that the entire situation has been mis-interpreted. ¬†The actual text of what Stacy wrote is not an attack on Tina. Was Tina, herself, offended by Stacy’s post? If so, in what way?
    ¬† I’d like to offer my services, as I have to others I shan’t name here, to act as an intermediary, it it’s helpful. It seems as though there may be some animus afoot here: has a fatwa been preached against Stacy McCain? Seriously. I’m just somebody who blogs for the joy of it. Stacy, like Tina (I think) is somebody attempting to make a living in journalism.
    ¬† It is one thing for the Left to go after people; that’s who they are, that’s what they do. But for people on the Right to do it is sad, and I have told Stacy as much privately and on the blog for his riffs about Tabitha. If Stacy has sinned substantially (and, really, is pointing out something in a video that is freely online a ‘sin’ outside of Lancaster County, PA?) then much good could come of having a clearing of the air.
    ¬† I’m not setting myself up in judgement here, or trying to pass Stacy as a saint; but if any of us are Christian and mean it more than BHO, maybe we can speak the truth in love, and direct fire back onto those posing a clear and present danger to Western Civilization.
      Regret in advance if any of this is inflammatory, for such is surely not my intent. Let me know what I can do.

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  • I’ve now been on two phone calls on this subject, and think that everyone is getting too wound over it all, but the thing that really gets me is this.¬† I’ve think I did good work on CPAC but the “Thighgate” post I did got more hits than all my CPAC stuff combined.¬† And it isn’t even close.

    That’s a tad frustrating.

  • Beej

    I for one was happy to see this brought up. I regret that you’re getting grief from some folks.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Smitty, I think Stacy and I worked it out. ūüôā

  • Anonymous

    Peter, it’s the throwaway posts that get the traffic. I swear. I just threw that post together yesterday and really didn’t think it was all that controversial.

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  • Thank you so much, Melissa!
    My world wasn’t exactly wrecked by the kerfuffle, but it did put an extra cloud or two in the sky.
    Best wishes,

  • Question: If there were plenty of appropriately dressed women at CPAC, why is the picture at the head of this article one of Snooki? ¬†Was Snooki at CPAC? ¬†No. ¬†So WHY is she at the top of your article dressed so provocatively? ¬†Is it because provocatively dressed women draw attention? ¬†Aren’t you guilty of “Dressing your blog” in the same provocative manner that you are accusing young women of dressing at CPAC? ¬†Aren’t you guilty of a certain amount of¬†hypocrisy¬†here?Why can’t you lead by example, and just PRAISE the women who you think looked GOOD at CPAC? ¬†Why must you focus on the provocative? ¬†Why must you be so negative?

    There is a line between stylish and sexy and sleazy and dirty.  Sure. But who made you the arbiter of where that line should be?  Who asked you to judge the other women at CPAC?  Who thinks that is important?

    Women should have the FREEDOM to decide how they want to dress. ¬†That should be a personal freedom. ¬†That means they should have the FREEDOM to make mistakes without being taken to task or publicly shamed as “sluts” or whores,” especially over something so trivial.

  • Anonymous

    Women are free to dress however they like. So are men. And people are free to judge and they do.

    We are all making decisions every day about what to wear, how to carry ourselves, what we say, what we do. And people are watching our actions and coming to conclusions.

    Again, I’m not telling people what TO wear. I’m just noting the obvious: That people note what you do wear and draw conclusions.

    Why is this so offensive?

  • Smitty – You and Stacy are better gentlemen than I.¬† How “vile”¬†is it to attack someone for an article that it’s obvious neither Melissa nor the half-again too clever Katie Pavlich didn’t bother to take the time to read.¬† If by ‘working it out’ she means less than that she went to RSM hat in hand and in a contrite spirit apologized for her petty and¬†spiteful attack that was based entirely upon her own ignorance utterly self-important¬†lack of respect for a fellow human being, then she got off easy.¬† Some people wish that conservative women would stop dressing like Snookie.¬† I wish they’d stop thinking like her.

  • Bella

    Tina should have bent at the knee, so that you could check that her butt didn’t show.¬†

    I don’t understand. What you wrote about young, politically savvy women (“two-bit whores” and sluts, the lot of them) is all right, but what was written about Tina Korbe is not?¬†

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  • ¬†Palin seems to dress like a street-walker. Such high stilettos and skirts. Are you referring to her as well?

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  • Nope

    Actually, your whole point was to get page views.  Congratulations.

  • There’s a wonderful book out called “Raunch Culture” which explains this phenomenon perfectly.¬† Today’s fashions are the result of fifty years of the “Playboy philosophy” asserting that a woman’s primary value is her “hotness” rather than her wholeness.¬† Our mainstream fashion industry and cinema have fallen in line with the standards of pimps and porn publishers.

    One point where I disagree with Melissa Clouthier:  NO cleavage is acceptable in a business situation.  None.  Zero.  Ever. 

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  • Because you are making broad, denigrating generalizations based on something trivial. ¬†Don’t look now, but your prejudices are showing, like so much metaphoric toilet paper stuck to your shoe.. ¬†You are practicing “slut-shaming,” and that’s a silly, archaic, condescending and at times ugly and misogynistic outlook. ¬†Women have the right to dress how they want. And yes, you are right, people are free to judge them. ¬†But, by extension then, other people are free to judge the judges as mean-spirited bullies. You are allowed to take this one step farther and call my meta-judgment “Intolerant” or “PC¬†Fascism.” ¬†But at some point that all will spiral into absurd inanity. ¬†I think it’s better to cut off this noxious weed of¬†judgment¬†at it’s root, where it was inane from the start. ¬†Try to just live your life as best you can, and try not to judge other people in the process. ¬†Judge not lest ye… and all ¬†that. ¬†Are you a Christian? ¬†Do you follow the teachings of Christ? ¬†He would hang out with prostitutes and instructed his followers not to jump to conclusions, not be so prejudiced and mean. ¬†I’m paraphrasing the Bible, but maybe you get my drift. ¬†