The right worries Minnie Mouse’s pantsuit will destroy our social fabric. It won’t.

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Shirley Chisholm, who became the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and later ran for president, was known for her boldly patterned dresses and skirt suits, many of which she designed herself. Once, her staff persuaded her to wear a pantsuit in the House of Representatives, as some other female legislators had begun to do (Rep. Charlotte T. Reid was the first, in 1969). Even though she hid it under an ankle-length sleeveless coat, her press aide recalled: “She was so embarrassed, she kept her head in her newspapers. She must have read the New York Times seven times that day.” For a woman who was never shy about jumping into a debate, it was an uncharacteristic posture. Though Chisholm wore pants and culottes in private, when it came to her political career, she was more comfortable — psychologically if not physically — in a skirt.

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