In Davos, Women Are Wearing High Heels in the Snow

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Lauren Tuck
·News Editor
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at a panel session on the first day of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 20, 2016. (Photo: AP)

At the World Economic Forum currently taking place in Davos, Sheryl Sandberg boldly declared that Facebook can aid as a combatant in the global war against terrorism. “The best thing to speak against recruitment by ISIS are the voices of people who were recruited by ISIS,” she declared to the audience. “Counterspeech to the speech that is perpetuating hate, we think, by far is the best answer.” The COO of the world’s biggest social media network passionately insisted — with real examples — that peace is obtainable through modern technology. Yet the biggest takeaway from her panel with Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, was that she decided to forgo tights in 20-degree weather.

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A close-up of Sandberg’s shoes. (Photo: AP)

The Lean In author paired a burgundy dress and a matching sweater with suede high heels in the snowy Switzerland environment. And she wasn’t alone in risking hypothermia for the sake of fashion. Jordan’s Queen Rania wore a white blouse with a navy blue patterned pencil skirt without tights and stilettos, and Queen Maxima paired a red dress with, again, nothing on her legs and pumps. Meanwhile, these powerful women’s male counterparts are covered up and in snow boots. So is this sexism and double standards for women in the professional workplace on its grandest — and coldest — scale? “The battle of the sexes, I believe, is one that will never change greatly,” image consultant Kendra Charisse Porter tells Yahoo Style. “There are cultural and societal norms that people have grown accustomed to for each generation.”

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Jordan’s Queen Rania attends the session “The Humanitarian Imperative: A Global, Regional and Industry Response” during the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The prevailing assumption for an executive, royal, or political power play seems to be a standard uniform of a simple, nonpatterned dress and heels (but not too high!), and those at Davos are sticking with just that. “I don’t think they’re letting the weather deter their visual brand,” Mila Grigg, the CEO of Moda Image and Brand Consulting, says. Sandberg, for example, wears a version of the same ensemble — a colorful sheath with a cardigan and heels — to all of her public engagements, so she wouldn’t want to break with the consistent perception she’s putting out there just because of the temperature. Grigg explained it in football terms: When it’s negative 2 degrees in Wisconsin, you’ll see some Green Bay Packers in short sleeves. It’s a point of pride and armor. “The power dress is the same as a power suit,” she said. “It looks intelligent and has a sense of excellence.”

High heels can instill confidence as well. In fact, females in the workplace are now being taught the effectiveness of “power poses” or a “power stance.” Porter explains that even the slightest boost in height changes a woman’s posture and attitude, leading others to view them as having higher credibility. “Men tend to be more utilitarian in their fashion sense,” she says. “I think that they perceive women who wear boots or flats to work as more pragmatic.”

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Christine Lagarde, managing director of IMF, with male peers at the session “Where Is the Chinese Economy Heading?” of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 21, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

But bare legs? Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, appeared onstage in brown tights and knee-high, weatherproof boots but was still able to deliver her insight on the economy. Sylvie di Giusto, founder of Executive Image Consulting, believes that any article of clothing that distracts from delivering the message — for a man or a woman — is a problem. “You don’t want to stand out for your clothes, you want to be remembered for your excellence,” she says. Giusto gave the example of Hillary Clinton back in 2012 at the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. A group photo called for attendees to wear white, while the then Secretary of State stood out in a lime-green pantsuit. To this day, no one remembers what went down at the high-level talks, but her “fashion faux pas” is immortalized on the Internet.

Giusto goes so far as to call the barelegged look careless. “If people notice that they are not wearing tights, and if this becomes a topic in the press, I just don’t find it responsible for those women.” But Porter points out that thanks to technology, it’s possible for women to present themselves as uncovered while actually being layered up. Technical fabrics can fool the eyes because they’re actually thin enough and sheer enough to blend in with the skin while offering warmth and protection from the elements.

Fingers, or legs, crossed that at least some of these women’s messages aren’t overshadowed by their sartorial choices. Especially this point from Sandberg: “Men still run the world — and I’m not sure it’s going that well.”

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