At Wednesday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden, messages of unity were shared in speeches, poetry and song. But the fashions on the Capitol steps made as much of a statement as what was said.
Fashion has long been a form of subtle communication in the political arena. Queen Elizabeth II has been said to use her clothing choices as a way to make statements she chooses not to say outright.
Democratic women in Congress made a statement when they all dressed in white, the color of suffragettes, during President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.
Former first lady Melania Trump garnered backlash for traveling to visit children at the U.S.-Mexico border in a fast fashion jacket with “I really don’t care, do you?” emblazoned on the back. She also drew criticism for regularly wearing clothes from Dolce & Gabbana, a fashion house that has been accused of racism, sexism and homophobia on several occasions.
At her inauguration, Vice President Kamala Harris restarted the trend of purposeful dressing. Her purple coat—the color of unity—was designed by Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson, a pair of young Black designers.
Hudson, who has Black daughters, said working on the project meant more to him than anything he’d done previously.
“It gave meaning to what I do because sometimes when you’re in fashion it’s perceived as frivolous and [like] we don’t really bring anything to the world,” he told ET. “So when you get those moments to show like, ‘Look, we can be a part of this, too’ and to show my daughters that because of this woman, your dad took a part in her being celebrated, was amazing to me.”
Harris’ signature pearls, a callback to her Howard University days with her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, were custom designed by Puerto Rican designer Wilfredo Rosado.
“The necklace has a few unifying themes; the gold chain link symbolizes strength, the pearl is representative of both femininity and resilience, and the diamonds add a hint of glamour that I felt was perfect for the occasion,” Rosado told BAZAAR.com.
First lady Jill Biden wore an “ocean blue” coat and dress designed by Markarian, a female-founded, New York City brand with just six employees that had been virtually unknown outside New York fashion circles before the inauguration.
The color blue was chosen to “signify trust, confidence and stability,” according to a press release from the brand.
Even the former first lady’s clothing made bold statements. Michelle Obama wore an oxblood ensemble also by Sergio Hudson.
For a fashion brand, being chosen by an inauguration VIP means more than notoriety for their products and messages, it also boosts sales.
The fashion choices of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who became a meme hit overnight, are a perfect example. Dressed in his Vermont best, Sanders donned a pair of brown mittens that were hand-knitted by Jen Ellis, a second-grade teacher in Vermont. The educator gave Sanders the mittens on the campaign trail a few years ago.
Since the inauguration, her email has crashed.
“I’m so flattered that Bernie wore them to the inauguration,” Ellis wrote on Twitter. “Sadly, I have no more mittens for sale. There are a lot of great crafters on Etsy who make them.”
Sanders even quipped about his fashion statement, telling MSNBC, “It makes people aware that we make good mittens in Vermont. We have some good coats, as well.”
The practical brown jacket Sanders wore is from Burton, a clothing company based in Burlington, Vermont, that made a recent dedication to racial equality.
The brand posted a commitment on its website that called out the white, “bro-centric” snowboarding culture and vowed to “grow the f*** up.”
“We’re committed to confronting systemic racism and increasing equity, representation and inclusion for all people in our sport, our outdoor spaces and our society,” the statement reads.