If you’re a man, and you’re running for president, you wear a suit. It’s the standard option—really the only option. No item of women’s clothing plays the same role—just look at Clinton’s wardrobe against that of the UK’s sartorially flexible prime minister, Theresa May. The situation opens women up to more scrutiny: We speculate about what they mean to say with their outfits. (It’s no wonder Clinton has reportedly tapped Vogue’s Anna Wintour to consult on her wardrobe.)

The lack of consistency also means that, when standing beside men in suits, women are always wearing the “non-standard” option. Linguist Deborah Tannen likened this situation, and many other women face, to the “marked” case in language in a 1993 essay (pdf) for the New York Times Magazine. You mark a word to indicate a deviation from its main usage, such as adding “-ed” to signify past tense, or “-ette” to identify it as feminine, since male is the unmarked standard—just as the men’s suit is in professional attire.

“I asked myself what style we women could have adopted that would have been unmarked, like the men’s,” Tannen wrote. “The answer was none. There is no unmarked woman.”

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