Sexualized Dress Revisited

Like Meryl Streep (see below), I could have sworn that one-time celebrities Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen wore women’s suits on the 1950s TV quiz show, What’s My LIne?

That’s why in the last post, I blithely (without checking) quoted Streep’s concern about societal pressures on today’s women to dress in sexually alluring clothes, even on a hard-news political program like Meet the Press. Streep’s point was that in a previous era, TV shows (and the media in general) allowed women greater modesty, as recalled from watching What’s My Line?

Yikes, was that wrong, and thank you, reader Ed Dravecky of Allen, Texas, for spotting the error:

“Meryl Streep lives in an interesting alternate timeline,” Dravecky writes. “Suits? On this Earth’s What’s My Line, the women on the panel wore dresses and the men wore suits in the early seasons, and formal evening wear (including tuxedos for the men) in the later ones. Just do a Google Image search for ‘What’s My Line Panelists’ and you’ll turn up dozens of images like this one from the New York Times.”

Picture of What's My Line panel

Dorothy Kilgallen, Steve Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf wear eye masks as they question the mystery guest on What’s My Line?

Wow. Now that I see this photo, I remember those bare arms, those cocktail dresses, those look-at-my-cleavage necklines. Of course, the whole idea of the tuxedos on Bennett Cerf and off-screen host John Daly was meant, along with the evening gowns on Kilgallen and Francis, to suggest the atmosphere of an Upper East-side party in Manhattan, during which we viewers were invited to participate in a witty parlor game complete with eye masks. (Note that Steve Allen, resident iconoclast, was allowed to wear a business suit with loosened tie.) In any case, those ain’t suits worn by the women panelists.

Still, I agree with Streep: Today any female politico on Meet the Press or Face the Nation could defuse the whole idea of forced sexual allure in women by dressing in a simple suit that doesn’t bare anything at all. (By the way, the “ette” and “esse” in “Stopette” deodorant and “Finesse” shampoo also feminized the use of soap products, but we’re all so accustomed to that, it doesn’t deserve mention. Right?)