Anyone who thinks fashion exists in a realm outside of politics needs a reality check. For centuries, fashion has reflected the political and cultural realities of the times that people have lived in – whether it was the use of white as a symbol of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, or, more recently, the 18 Shades of Black movement after the Supreme Court revoked a ban on women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple.
Earlier this week, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, were sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States one thing was clear: they, and everyone around them, were going to use every tool possible to convey a message of unity, racial diversity, and hope. And yes, these tools included their outfits as well. Monochrome seemed to be the trend to follow, with everyone from Dr Jill Biden to Kamala Harris to Michelle Obama donning one-shade outfits. But what was the significance of monochrome here? The choice to wear one single colour from head-to-toe is not only flattering in its ability to elongate one’s silhouette but simple in its straightforwardness.
After having men don monochromatic suits for their swearing-in ceremonies, as Kamala Harris took the oath and became the first female Vice President of the United States, it was even more significant for her – it was an indication that she’d broken the glass ceiling and made her way to the top. She chose to wear a design by Black American designers Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson for inauguration day, along with her signature pearls. Apart from the fact that she wore a BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of colour) designer, her outfit’s significance also relied on the fact that it was purple. A mixture of red (the colour of the Republicans) and blue (the colour of the Democrats) symbolised a sense of unity and bipartisanship. Also, along with white, it was one of the colours of the suffragists, and to wear it was to acknowledge the fulfilment of their dream embodied by Harris.
Both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton also wore shades of purple – Michelle donned a plum monochrome belted trench coat three-piece-set by Sergio Hudson, while Clinton wore her signature Ralph Lauren pantsuit in a monochrome fashion, with a dark-hued coat on top. The three women’s outfits have also been worn to honour Shirley Chisholm, who also often wore purple during her history-making campaign as the first Black woman to run for president, inspiring Harris’s career.
First lady Dr Jill Biden’s Inauguration day outfit was bound to make waves, and it didn’t disappoint. She wore a custom-made blue dress by the brand Markarian, and while she didn’t wear the Democrat blue, she wore a marine blue that matched Joe Biden’s tie. While a subtle nod to the political party, the colour represented trust, confidence, and stability.
And just when you thought the statement-making was reserved for the politicians, the performers added subtle messages of their own. Lady Gaga sang the national anthem in the most Gaga way possible – dressed in a Schiaparelli custom gown with a large sculpted red skirt and a standout golden dove detail on the chest, to symbolise her patriotism.
JLo also gave a respectful nod to the Suffrage Movement with an all-white Chanel outfit.
Despite the super-high fashion content on inauguration day, the one thing we can’t stop raving about is Senator Bernie Sanders’ mittens. Quickly becoming the butt of hundreds of memes all over the internet, the mittens actually have a great story behind them. They were made by Jen Ellis, a Vermont schoolteacher, out of repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.
And while it’s only been a day that the Biden-Harris administration has come into power, they’ve already made impactful political statements – starting with their outfits, all of which underlie a message of hope, unity, and a better future ahead.
Photographs: Getty Images