Cooper, Helene

‘Dear Helene: Could You Not Wear Beachwear on Sunday A.M. Talk Shows?’

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These days, my mail includes telephone messages wondering why I wore a white blouse to talk about Chuck Hagel getting fired as defense secretary on “Morning Joe,” emails wondering whether I’m wearing the same necklace as the late Gwen Ifill on “Meet the Press” and Facebook messages from family friends purporting to be proud I’m on TV while also offering up commentary that I shouldn’t wear my favorite black leather jacket when talking about Iran’s nuclear program.

But the beachwear and fat arms hand-typed letter stood out. I googled the return address and found a satellite street image of an ugly red pickup truck parked in a nondescript yard, which told me, well, nothing actually.

I love my beachwear — these cute completely insubstantial crocheted cover-ups that come to the elbows. I have eight of them in different colors, all purchased on Folegandros, this island in Greece that I go to every summer, for $15 each. The whole reason I buy them is to cover up my fat arms on TV. Apparently I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

How had Mr. or Mrs. Red Pickup Truck deduced that? After parading the letter around the office in a futile search for reassurance from my guffawing colleagues — do men get such missives? — I took to social media where my Facebook friends were bound to do a better job of buoying me up.

Over the past months, looking for people (other than myself for eating too many bowls of Jollof rice) to blame for the letter, I’ve settled on the city of Washington D.C., where I live and work.

The city is too conservative for my haphazard style. Go to Capitol Hill and it’s a sea of Ann Taylor low-heeled pumps and Talbot’s suits.

In recent years, Washington has played host to two First Ladies — Michelle Obama and now Melania Trump — who have pushed the envelope of what women wear here. But remember the stir when Mrs. Obama bared her arms in her first official photo as First Lady? Or the recent social media storm when Mrs. Trump wore stilettos to a hurricane?

Clearly, I’ve decided, Washington can’t handle too much fashion forwardness. A couple of years ago, I tried on a pair of gorgeous deep red laced-up ankle boots in Paris, and the guy at the cash register stopped me as I was handing him my credit card.

“You live in Washington? You will wear these there?” he said, causing me to pause.

I sighed. “Okay, give me the black pair.” I feel bitter about it every time I put on those black boots.

A few years ago, a friend who is a CNN correspondent gave me a pair of sedate post earrings for Christmas. I had just told her about some blog post that had me in high dudgeon, in which evil bloggers had critiqued the earrings I wore one night on the PBS show “Washington Week.” “There were three tiers to those earrings,” they snarked. “Exactly who costumed Helene? And if this passes for professional dress at The Times these days, color us shocked.”

My friend and I laughed about it, although I was secretly mad, and she sent me a pair of earrings that didn’t dangle to wear next time I went on TV. I promised her I would wear them.

But of course I didn’t.

Keep the conversation going tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Underground, where Helene Cooper moderates “From Anchor Suits to Bare-ing Arms,” a panel discussion about the evolution of “Washington fashion.” For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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