All eyes are on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who have been confirmed as the next President and Vice President of the United States. After the results were finally announced, the duo spoke in Wilmington, Delaware. The spotlight is particularly on Harris, who will be making history not only as the first female VP, but also the first Black and Indian-American person in the role. During her victory speech, the 56-year-old urged children to “dream with ambition” and said: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last.”
It was no coincidence Harris wore a white Carolina Herrera pantsuit for the occasion, a color associated with the suffragette movement. The suffragettes on both sides of the Atlantic used fashion to help convey their political message. The British suffrage movement, for instance, represented themselves via purple, white, and green.
The suffragettes – often mischaracterized as neglectful and unfeminine by the day’s press – would regularly wear all white, a symbol of purity, to protests and demonstrations. In doing so, they helped subvert the press’ criticisms. Wearing white today has become something of a trend among American women in politics. Hillary Clinton regularly wore a white pantsuit when campaigning in the 2016 Presidential race – most memorably to accept the Democratic nomination – and in January 2019, many of the women newly appointed to Congress wore white for the swearing-in ceremony.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the group, explaining on Twitter: “I wore all-white today to honor the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come. From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.” Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected to Congress.
In February 2019, a large group of female Democrats – including Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi – made a stir at the State of the Union by banding together to wear white and honor the suffragettes.
Some people argue that too much emphasis has already been placed on Harris’ fashion choices. While discussion of her style shouldn’t be at the expense of the content of her speeches and her policies, fashion and politics have long been intertwined. Politicians – particularly female figures who arguably have more wardrobe freedom than their male counterparts – know powerful statements can be made through what they wear.
Instagram account Diet Prada is known as the unofficial watchdog in fashion – it calls out injustice in the industry and was vocal about the US election in the buildup to November 3. The account was quick to highlight Harris’ choice of a white outfit as the newly elected vice president, writing: “As the first woman period, let alone a woman of Black and South Asian descent, to attain this position, she’s already an incredible inspiration to people around the world. Her eloquence and intellect are echoed in her dress sense, and to come out the gate in such a powerful statement is giving us a lot to look forward to.” While Harris’s fashion shouldn’t be the only thing we focus on, neither should it be ignored.