Guest Columns

STYLE MATTERS: Madeleine Albright: “Read my Pins”

Contributing Columnist

Instead of “Read my Lips,” Madeleine Albright, the first woman secretary of state, prefers “Read my Pins.” Over the years Albright collected hundreds of pins, each with a symbolic message and an anecdote. A selection of her favorites is currently part of an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum called, “Read My Pins, the Madeleine Albright Collection.” The pins arrived in Denver April 15 and will be on display until June 17.

Instead of “Read my Lips,” Madeleine Albright, the first woman secretary of state, prefers “Read my Pins.” Over the years she collected hundreds of pins, each with a symbolic message and an anecdote. A selection of her favorites is currently part of an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

The need for discretion in Albright’s job was paramount. President Bill Clinton’s chief foreign ambassador knew well the dangers of “loose lips sink ships.” So she kept her lips in check and used jewelry, in this case, pins, to communicate silently what she thought of key foreign policy negotiations and certain world leaders. Of course, she fooled no one, but with a glint in her eye during an appearance to coincide with the opening of the exhibit, she confided, “I have had a lot of fun with them. I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal.”

Over the years Albright built a beautiful collection of sea creature pins. The snail and crab often were worn when she wanted to express her frustration with the slow pace of negotiations.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

After just a few minutes in her company, it becomes quite clear why Albright was selected to be secretary of state. Dressed in a simple black pants suit with gold accessories and a meticulous hairdo, Albright looks like the rich aunt who comes to town once a year to take you to dinner at the “Brown.” But behind that amicable demeanor is an iron will and an attitude that brooks no nonsense. Example: When Albright attempted to get Saddam Hussein to agree to a weapons inspection, his press representative referred to her as a serpent. The next day, Albright pinned a golden snake brooch to her suit for her meeting with Hussein. She knew that he knew what that meant. “Read My Pins” includes this famous snake brooch.

Who knew Albright was a Star Trek fan? Albright assigned her own meaning to the space ship. It meant that events had taken a very strange turn.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

During her tenure, Albright met many times with Middle East leaders to try and broker a peace agreement. She became particularly annoyed with Yasser Arafat who would commit to few compromises. Albright wore a bumblebee pin to reflect her frustrations. Before long, as word spread about her double entendre accessories, world leaders waited anxiously to see what pin she would wear when conferring with them.

Angel of Solace pin. In 1998, terrorists bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which hundreds died in the attacks. Albright wore this pin to honor those who had died in the bombings.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

The exhibit features Albright’s collection of 200 pins with the behind the scenes story about each one and a photo of Albright wearing the pins, which are surprisingly large, especially for such a petite woman. Albright found most of her brooches at flea markets and antique shops; others were gifts. Some are just paste; others contain real stones.

Albright wore this Arrow pin to a tense meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding nuclear arms reduction. Putin asked her if the pin she was wearing was “one your interceptor missiles,” and she replied, “Yes, and as you can see, we know how to make them very small, so you’d better be ready to negotiate!”
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

The exhibit is definitely worth a visit, especially for teens. It’s an easily digestible way of learning about current events and U.S. foreign policy.

And for Style Matters, it has the added advantage of featuring some fabulous jewelry!

The famous serpent pin.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Judie Schwartz, whose Style Matters columns appear in The Colorado Statesman, is the co-author of two best-selling books on the best places to shop in Colorado. “A Fashion-Lover’s Guide to the Best Shopping in Denver and Beyond,” is available at stylematters.us. Schwartz presents image seminars to corporations on the importance of a business casual wardrobe and entertains conventioneers with talks on how to look great on a budget. She is also a wardrobe consultant. Schwartz has one husband, three children, no pets and small closets. She can be reached at stylematters@coloradostatesman.com or www.stylematters.us

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduces her pin collection at the Denver Art Museum.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
This lovely pin of peace was given to Albright by Leah Rabin, wife of slain Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin. It’s meaning for Albright was that the only way is the way of peace.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
Later, Mrs. Rabin followed up her gift of the dove pin with a matching necklace.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
During Albright’s tenure, she had many opportunities to work with Hillary Clinton as First Lady. When Hillary became secretary of state, Albright was thrilled for her and wore this pin which symbolizes the shattered glass ceiling for women.
Photo by Marie Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
The Most Treasured pin, a pink heart was made for Albright by her youngest daughter, then age 5.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
In the bottom right corner is Madeleine Albright sitting in a chair on the phone.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
The exhibition view as you enter through the exhibit doors.
Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman