The Changing Landscape of Newswomen’s Fashion

Dresses dangled on the racks at Neiman’s and Saks, but all Norah O’Donnell needed was a suit. Yet, the veteran news anchor was disappointed to find that the women’s blazer, once a staple in department stores and network news broadcasts, was disappearing. This discovery led O’Donnell to ponder the changing landscape of women’s fashion in the media.

For her “CBS This Morning” publicity photo, O’Donnell had to dig into her closet and pull out a six-year-old navy Giorgio Armani blazer. It seems that many working women, including seasoned anchors like Diane Sawyer and Andrea Mitchell, have also shifted away from wearing suits. These women, who once donned suits to be taken seriously, now embrace bright sleeveless sheath dresses and stiletto heels, challenging the traditional dress code in television news.

This revolution in the female anchor’s wardrobe happened rapidly across network and cable television. The advent of cable news networks pushed the boundaries of what was considered appropriate for female talent on television. Female anchors now enjoy more freedom to express their femininity, indicating a shift in societal attitudes towards women’s roles in the workplace.

Dave Smith, president of SmithGeiger, a market research firm that consults with news networks, believes that this shift in women’s fashion on television is a result of evolving times. The audience now has equal regard for female and male anchors, allowing women to embrace their femininity confidently.

The empowerment of newswomen is evident as they claim their place in the anchor’s chair. Even industry veterans like Sawyer and Mitchell have adopted subtle changes in their wardrobe. Sawyer now sometimes anchors the evening news wearing crisp black blouses without a jacket, while Mitchell opts for pastel, cap-sleeved shells.

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However, skeptics question whether there are ulterior motives behind this modern newswoman image. Some argue that media companies are encouraging lower necklines and higher hemlines to boost ratings. Ann Curry and Mika Brzezinski have shed light on the issue, revealing that network executives and stylists tried to control their wardrobe choices. Brzezinski even mentioned being coerced into wearing “ridiculously high-heel shoes.”

Despite these changes, there are instances where the traditional suit jacket still holds significance. For example, moderators of presidential and vice-presidential debates, such as Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz, wore traditional black suit jackets. Likewise, the Supreme Court press section, although not requiring women to wear suits, often sees female reporters donning suit jackets, possibly to show solidarity with their male colleagues.

The impact of the newswomen’s changing appearance on viewers remains a topic of debate. Research indicates that sexualized female anchors may be less memorable to male viewers, but women tend to remember more of the news content presented. This suggests a gender gap in how viewers perceive news content, with the old wisdom of femininity not getting in the way of the news being discarded.

Fashion trends and retail availability have played a significant role in the shift toward dresses on television. Fashion labels such as Diane von Furstenberg, Hugo Boss, and Anne Klein started producing solid-colored sheath dresses suitable for both work and cocktail events. It’s unclear whether cable news networks sparked the trend or simply reacted to it, but this transformation has now spread throughout the entire industry.

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Fox News, among other networks, gives its anchors freedom over their clothing choices. They encourage women anchors to wear bold colors, departing from the once-conservative approach. As a result, dresses have become the preferred staple for women on television. The affordability and ease of dresses have made them a practical choice for working women like O’Donnell, who appreciates the convenience as a working mom.

The changing appearance of newswomen has raised questions for younger anchors, who wonder how they can balance professionalism with personal style. Kayla Tausche, a reporter for CNBC, navigates the challenge of dressing for television while looking appropriate for source meetings on Wall Street. Young newswomen sometimes make the mistake of dressing older than their years, influenced by the fashion choices of industry veterans like Diane Sawyer.

Journalism schools now face the challenge of advising women on appearance standards in a constantly evolving landscape. Different television stations across the country have varying appearance preferences, ranging from conservative to liberal. With the changes in fashion making the issue more complicated, journalism schools are grappling with defining acceptable standards for young anchors entering the field.

As the fashion choices of newswomen continue to evolve, it is clear that the traditional women’s suit is losing its grip on the industry. The power to choose what to wear on television has given newswomen the freedom to express their femininity confidently. While this shift presents challenges for journalism schools and younger anchors, it also reflects the changing times and growing acceptance of women in the media spotlight.

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