Deborah Birx is the maternal fashion icon America needs right now
Last week, President Trump held a press conference in the White House Rose Garden introducing his coronavirus task force to the nation. Familiar faces like Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Anthony Fauci and a handful of CEOs provided the backdrop.
Then, through the sea of men in standard-issue stodgy business suits and striped ties in primary colors, stepped forward a 60ish blond woman who looked like Renée Zellweger might play her in a future blockbuster.
She had a tranquil demeanor and a serious but airy voice that acted as a release valve on the pressure cooker we had suddenly found ourselves in. Her outfit — a subtle striped button-down with a brown, orange and navy plaid scarf — told a similar story of relatability and calmness.
She looked like a well-heeled, reliable mother who drove the latest model Volvo station wagon, dished out expert advice and took style inspiration from the movie characters Diane Keaton has played in recent years.
She was the chic — but not too chic — maternal presence I didn’t realize we needed until she appeared.
Her name? Dr. Deborah Birx. She is the response coordinator in the fight against this frightening virus, and by now, a familiar face. And although she looks like a walking hug, she has the type of stacked monster résumé that would make her the No. 1 overall pick in any draft.
The 63-year-old Penn native was an Army physician who was on the front lines of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She was the director of the US Military HIV Research Program at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and then the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS(DGHA). In 2014, she was nominated by President Obama to serve as the US Global AIDS coordinator. In late February, Mike Pence came calling.
During uncertain times, it might seem frivolous to focus on or even mention anything aesthetic, like clothing; but it’s quietly important, sending us subliminal messages of confidence and capability. In every briefing since the Rose Garden appearance, Birx has brought her special brand of sartorial serenity and strength to the country.
Unlike many women in top perches of American society, who thrive off the fumes of their structured, angular power suits and unimaginative shift dresses, Birx relies on soft silhouettes, feminine frocks and her seemingly unending supply of scarves that she neatly drapes and wraps around her shoulders. Instead of look-at-me reds and electric hues, she opts for muted dark blues and namaste earth tones.
The mother of two clearly hasn’t bothered with the power-dressing manual. She’s unknowingly writing her own.
On Friday morning she entered the briefing room in a silver raw silk dress with a fuller skirt and oversize monochrome sash. Her trademark scarf neatly hung over her right shoulder. The retro form could have been plucked from June Cleaver’s closet, but on Birx, it was thoroughly modern housewife — cleaning up our nation’s mess with her brains instead of a vacuum and marigold gloves. It was a testament to the versatility and power of femininity.
Dr. Birx wasn’t appointed to be mother-in-chief. But she carries the role well, and how lucky for us. Her personal style and presence are soothing and soft, an enviable compliment — and clear asset — to her stellar bona fides.
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