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Female anchors' style evolves from mimicking male counterparts

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The dark blazer with prominent shoulder pads hangs in the closet collecting dust.

It's no longer required.

Clothing worn by today's female news anchors has a new look. Women who deliver the day's top stories on your television screen have styles of their own.

But the clothes cannot be more important than the message they give viewers.

“The image I want to portray is someone who is credible and who people trust for their news,” says KDKA-TV's Kristine Sorensen, who hosts “Pittsburgh Today Live,” co-anchors the 5 p.m. newscast with Ken Rice and does special reports. “I like to add in my personal style. But the bottom line is you want to be taken seriously.”

There is a definitely a fine line between being fashionable and sexy, says Jill Martin, fashion and lifestyle contributor for the “Today” show, New York Knicks/MSG broadcaster and People StyleWatch contributing editor.

“Sleeveless dresses and tops have become acceptable in the entertainment and even in the news world,” Martin says.

“As long as something is not too short or too low cut, I feel like you can definitely err on the trendier side,” she says. “Bold prints and mixing and matching patterns have also become big in the television world. I think women are having more fun getting dressed for work.”

They really are, says WPXI-TV's Peggy Finnegan, co-anchor of the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts with David Johnson. Finnegan, who's been with the station since 1990, started out wearing suits. As she gained more experience, she felt more comfortable and was a little more daring with her wardrobe.

“We need to dress so that the viewers respect us,” Finnegan says. “Fashion for female anchorwomen has really evolved. I think about what I am wearing and how it will look on air. I don't want my clothes to be a distraction, but I still want to have some fun with my fashion. And I have made some mistakes.”

Not many, thanks to Nordstrom personal stylist Marcelle Huard.

“Marcelle gives me feedback and will be honest with me,” says Finnegan, who likes to wear bright colors. “I try to tailor my look so it's fashionable, but not too edgy.”

Huard says she looks for comfortable clothing and chooses colors that will be easy on the eyes.

“I try to find items that fit into the wardrobe Peggy already has, so the items are versatile,” Huard says. “I try to stay away from patterns which don't always work well for television. I am there to help improve upon her style, without changing her look too much. I try to improve her wardrobe with minimal risk.”

With more women in the business, there are times Finnegan co-anchors with Darieth Chisolm. The two never check with each other in terms of what to wear, but they probably should, Finnegan says.

“We have similar tastes and have some outfits that are very much alike,” Finnegan says. “Many times I will come in and say ‘I almost wore my jacket/pants/dress like that today.'”

Chisolm, who normally co-anchors the 11 p.m. news with Johnson, says her fashion style is about being comfortable while still looking professional.

“I try to stay conservative, which poses a challenge at times,” Chisolm says. “Female anchors in the '70s and '80s wore suits and jackets with big shoulder pads, but I prefer a dress and boots. I also like wearing colors like red and blue.”

Most anchors keep spare jackets in the studio in case they need to change a look. They might have on a bright outfit and then something tragic happens such as the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Too much jewelry isn't a good thing, they say. Chisolm chooses Sabika necklaces, bracelets or earrings.

“I love the Sabika jewelry line because it shows up nice on air,” she says. “And it looks good with everything. I am always conscious that what I wear is not too clingy or gaudy. I try to stay current and not out-of-date looking.”

There was a time when women didn't have fashion choices. Just ask Eleanor Schano, Pittsburgh's first female commercial television announcer in 1951, who in 1970 became the city's first solo prime-time anchorwoman at WIIC-TV (now WPXI-TV).

“I would say most of the anchors in Pittsburgh dress professionally, but not on cable TV,” she says. “In my day, I didn't have any female role models, so I dressed like my male colleagues with a suit and tailored shirt. News is serious business. What is more important: the message or the messenger? Today's female journalists are talented, but sometimes they get carried away with their fashion choices. These women can still have a style that is very personal, while still looking professional. It is OK to express your individuality. But there should be governance and style advice for these women. You should not look like you are going out clubbing.”

Schano has a closet full of navy and black blazers. So do former broadcasters Sheila Hyland and Patrice King Brown. Hyland worked 22 years at CBS, ABC and Fox and is a principal at FosterHyland & Associates, which does media training and crisis communications.

“There is a fine line,” says Hyland, who had to parade her entire wardrobe in front of a general manager, his wife and the news director. “I can't believe some of the things they allow women to wear on-air. That is not necessarily a bad thing. We just didn't have that freedom.”

King Brown, the first African-American woman in this area to anchor prime-time news, says in 1978, women were required to wear a jacket. Consultants went through her closet.

“The jacket had authority,” says King Brown, who was on the air for 33 years with KDKA-TV. “The thought was that we were sending the right message and establishing credibility with the jacket. Women were still fighting for the right to be in the newsroom, so we didn't want to look too girly. We were proud women, and we were, indeed, women. I didn't want to look like my (male) co-anchor, however. By the mid 1990s, news directors allowed some color in the clothing and a little bit of flexibility in moving away from the standard rigid blazer. Women are so much more accepted today in newsrooms.”

Katie Couric and Connie Chung helped create a national awareness for female broadcast journalists, says Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

“The clothes these women wear can be appealing to the viewership, many who are women,” Thompson says. “You also see women and men moving away from sitting behind a desk so their entire outfit is viewed because of more dynamic news sets.”

KDKA-TV news director Anne Linaberger says she has no hard-and-fast rules, but will tell an anchor if she is wearing something that's inappropriate.

“I want all of our women to look professional,” Linaberger says. “What they wear cannot be distracting, because they have a job to do as journalists. ... I am not opposed to them wearing a sleeveless top or dress, if it looks good. And it is often trial and error with outfits to see what works.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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