By Jill Brooke
“On good days, I wore flowers and butterflies,” said Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State who died today from cancer at 84.
Albright, who wrote, “Read My Pins,” was also famous for creating a fashion signature of always wearing pins to express her opinions and moods.
It started during the Gulf War when the Iraqi press compared here to “an unparalleled serpent.” She had a snake pin and wore it to the meeting, sparking press commentary – and her way of fashion expression.
Oh, and these pins weren’t expensive but do show you how you can be memorable in all sorts of ways – especially with flowers. Her favorite pin? One that her daughter made her of a heart.
Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection was also often featured in many museum exhibitions including the Smithsonian. It featured more than 200 pins, most of the costume variety, which Secretary Albright wore to communicate a message before, during, and after her years of public service, including the years she led the Department of State, from 1997 to 2001.
Sometimes demure and understated, sometimes outlandish and outspoken, these pins were used as gentle implements of statecraft. She called them visual educational tools of cultural diplomacy.
The original traveling exhibition was organized by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York but then was so popular it found homes elsewhere. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, another feminist icon whose judicial collars became fashion accessories, these women also achieved respect for being brainy and relatable. They weren’t classic beauties but showed how style is memorable and fun.
Albright came to the United States as a young girl fleeing the Nazis from war-torn Czechoslovakia with the first stop in England.
Her family settled in Denver in 1948 where her father worked at the school of international relations at the University of Denver. Married for a short time, she had three daughters and then devoted herself to human rights and diplomacy.
One of her favorite pins was also one of breaking “a glass ceiling” since she was the first woman to achieve many high-ranking positions.
Albright told USA TODAY in 2020 that she had “a trick” to make sure her position was clear in a foreign policy arena dominated by men.
“After too much of the small talk, I would say, ‘I have come a long way, so I must be frank.’ Then I really did make a point of what I needed to say,” she said. “I don’t think frankly that I was rougher, tougher or anything than any man. I just think people were surprised to hear that language from a woman.”
Albright, who served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, pushed for NATO expansion eastward into the former Soviet bloc and helped lead the NATO bombing campaign in 1999 to halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. She served as Clinton’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997.
“I lived in many, many places,” Albright said in 2020 when she was recognized as one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Century. “I was asked to describe myself in six words at dinner, which was ‘worried, optimist, problem solver, grateful American.’”
All of us are grateful for her service as well as a wonderful sense of humanity, humor and fashion diplomacy.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD, floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.