Jill Biden wore something. That’s usually not cause for alarm. The First Lady tends to dress stylishly, but covertly, and notoriously keeps the attention off of her clothes.
But on April 1, while stepping off of an airplane at Andrews Air Force Base and heading home for the night, she happened to be wearing fishnets. And a leather skirt. And pixie boots. Cue the inflated outrage from conservative voices.
“Good God, she looks like Madonna’s grandmother,” the talk radio host Wayne Dupree tweeted, ignoring the fact that at 69, Biden is only seven years older than the Queen of Pop.
“Jill, you’re a 70 year old First Lady not a 17 year old goth girl,” another user wrote. Kimberly Klacik, a former Republican congressional nominee from Maryland thought that “the entire outfit can be found at Forever 21.”
Then there were references to Melania Trump, who wore European designers like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and Alexander McQueen. In other words, she looked more expensive than Jill Biden. “Desperately seeking attention,” one tweet read, unfavorably comparing Biden to the former first lady.
But fishnets—or, as we might more accurately call Biden’s pair, printed tights—are not exactly a controversial style in the year 2021. It’s a look that has trickled up from a Rocky Horror singalongs to everyday wear, especially in a transitional month like April. Yes, you can purchase these stockings at Forever21, but also Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
There is a certain subset on liberal Twitter who, when called, can instantly materialize nude photos of Melania Trump that were taken back in the ’90s for a now-defunct French men’s magazine. Please never be like them. So this became the counter-criticism.
“Wait wait wait, are Republicans really complaining about Dr. Jill Biden’s fishnet stockings when the last first lady is literally fucking naked all over the internet?” one asked.
“If you google ‘Melania Trump fishnets,’ just make sure no kids are around,” another attempted to joke.
It is easy, if tiresome, to point out the right’s hypocrisy when it comes to what type of woman is allowed to be sexy. But then again, why bring this up at all?
More than 20 years ago, Melania Trump posed nude for her job. Last week, Jill Biden wore an outfit that could only be considered underwear fetishism if you’re hopelessly repressed and in need of some sunlight. Those two examples are not similar and prove nothing except that women will always be judged by their perceived sex appeal.
That might be one of the worst parts of a first lady's job description—no matter what your husband does, your outfits will always be the easiest thing for people to criticize.
Leather skirts and see-through tights may have seemed inappropriate years ago, when the combo was made a plot point on the 1980s soap Knots Landing. Karen MacKenzie (Michele Lee) thought she could pull off the look. Abby (Donna Mills) naturally mocked her adventurousness.
Spoiler: Karen did. And who would have guessed that two generations later we would still be having this debate?
I think that most women can probably relate to allowing themselves one “fun” accessory reserved for a big night; maybe the tights are that for Biden. The stockings add an extra frivolity to her otherwise conventional outfit. It’s the type of addition a babysitter might notice as a mom leaves the house for dinner—oh, she’s going out.
Unlike her predecessor, Biden routinely makes media appearances and sits for interviews. (Though she’s not immune to gaffes—last week FLOTUS garbled the rallying cry “Si se puede” while speaking at Forty Acres, the first headquarters of the United Farm Workers union.) So it makes sense she would usually opt to downplay her wardrobe. She dresses discreetly because her outfit is never the message.
When she does divert from the script, as she did in the case with these fishnets, things like this happen. Michelle Obama faced a deluge of scrutiny over what she wore, too. Remember how people lost their minds over her cap sleeves? (Too informal, they said.)
Let Jill Biden, and anyone else, find a little joy in looking good. The youths are getting excited about their post-vaccine summer, and demand for going-out clothes has reportedly bounced back. Time will tell if Jill Biden has any impact on the sales of fishnet tights.