Rebel in the Capital of Black Coats

In the Washington Post:

Rebel in the Capital of Black Coats

Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page B08

Every morning, I first check the weather.

Fifty-five today. That’s seven degrees warmer than it was yesterday. Also, thirty degrees colder than it is in Miami. “It’s warm today,” I reason. I press my hands to the window; hmmm, it can’t be that bad.

Only when I hit the Metro, 15 minutes later, is it clear that my Miami upbringing has left me unprepared for winter in Washington. My pink skirt, bare legs and scarf-in-lieu-of-jacket bob conspicuously in a sea of ascetic black coats. Washington’s women don’t wear pink in the winter, it seems.

But why?

Recently, as I traded heels for flip-flops in frigid weather, a fellow Floridian winked at me over her own flops. We Floridians learn to ignore any temperature below 70 degrees. Sixty-five, you say? That means 80 in the sun. Thirty-five? Hey, not that bad if you are thinking in Celsius!

It’s not that I enjoy being cold. I’m sacrificing my own comfort for the greater good of making a fashion statement. Dress warmly if that’s what floats your boat, but I prefer fashion over function. My question is: Why does everyone in Washington so willingly imprison themselves in black wool as soon as the calendar strikes November? The very same women who once competed for attention with loud quilted purses and critter-stamped pants in summer now trudge along clad in shapeless, colorless outerwear. Toasty, I’m sure, but how boring!

I am new in town, a first-year law student trying to make it big. Washington is fast and progressive, quite different from hot, loud Miami. I love it here. But I cannot understand the utter lack of women. Females abound, but women are few and far between. Where are the role models for a future lawyer in red lipstick?

Perhaps the Mason-Dixon Line is symbolic when it comes to fashion. Would the industrialized North have had a greater adversary if Southerners hadn’t been so busy matching fashion to season? When did creative living and creative dressing become mutually exclusive? Sure, sometimes it still feels like a man’s world. But black isn’t the key to respect. Speak softly, but carry red lipstick. It’s our power tie, ladies.

Women of Washington, we must stick together. If I am the only one conspicuously bright on cold mornings, my plight will be that much more obvious. We must allow our ideas and personalities to shine through — no matter what the season. Sublimating your identity to the point of invisibility accomplishes nothing. Why not break free of the stereotypes? What is the worth of victory if you have sacrificed strut to accomplish it?

I will not contribute to homogeneity. Ladies, when you see one of your own among the black coats, break the mold. No, red lipstick will not automatically bring you respect. But really: What has black wool done for you lately?

— Kathryn Ciano



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