When Hillary Rodham Clinton abruptly canceled plans to sit for Vogue fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz last week, it caused ripples of speculation. After all, she had appeared on the December 1998 cover -- the first first lady to do so -- dressed in a gown by Oscar de la Renta.
Of course, this time it's different. The New York senator is the Democratic front-runner in a presidential campaign that's historic for bringing up questions about gender equality.
But male candidates have had no problem appearing on the covers of men's style magazines. Fellow Democratic contender Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina appeared on the cover of July/August Men's Vogue, and Clinton's closest rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, seems to be working on racking up the men's mag version of the Triple Crown, gracing the cover of the September/October Men's Vogue and the September GQ (paging Esquire . . . ).
Presidents and candidates have graced the covers of men's style mags going back to John F. Kennedy, who posed in the Oval Office for the March 1962 issue of GQ. (Later, his brother Bobby notoriously derided GQ as a "fag rag.") Candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore appeared on the November 1992 GQ cover and went on to win the election.
For men, these magazines offer an opportunity to shape their images. Edwards posed as an everyman in a Carhartt jacket, with a folksy white pickup truck and golden retriever. Obama's GQ turn positioned him as an approachable business man -- his wide smile matched by an equally widespread collar, his notched lapel jacket perfectly tailored.
So why is a women's fashion magazine a minefield for Hillary Clinton? It's a double standard to be sure. A male candidate appearing in a men's magazine is getting his message out. A female candidate appearing in a women's magazine is falling into a stereotype and opening herself up to criticism for caring more about her looks than the issues.
A spokesman for Vogue says the magazine is still working on scheduling a photo shoot with Clinton. Clinton's camp did not answer calls asking for comment about the Vogue shoot.
Perhaps there's a way to level the playing field. She could reschedule the shoot for Men's Vogue instead. And wear that pantsuit and pocket square number from the last round of debates.