January 20th was a big day for all Americans. The peaceful transition from Trump’s single (twice impeached!) term, to a new beacon of hope, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. It was a big day for fashion as well. Really, any historical event is. It is more than “superficial vanity” to study and embrace fashion. Former First Lady Michelle Obama knows this:
"It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say," she told the New York Times in 2018. "Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit."
What we wear says a lot about who we are and what we stand for. We all know colors have significance and everyone wants to look nice on national TV, but what has America communicated to itself and the world through the choices each person made on Wednesday?
I’ll note quickly that I will be analyzing the outfit choices made by the women at the Inauguration, not because the men’s fashion choices do not matter, but because none of their choices were particularly exciting for me. That being said, Joe Biden wore a Ralph Lauren suit. Most Presidents choose to stay true to American designers, especially on big days- so props to his stylist on keeping that tradition and highlighting a nice light blue tie for our favorite, classic Joe.
Let’s start with my favorite looks of the day. I am a HUGE fan of the Biden girls. The four granddaughters really are America’s sweethearts, and they did not fail us on Inauguration Day. Three of them sported sharp monochrome looks (similar to many other women that day) in white, tan, black, and pink down to the matching gloves and masks. Naomi (27), Finnegan (22), and Maisy’s (20) neutral ensembles were anything but plain, but instead fresh, refined, and clean as the eldest cousins. Natalie (16) wore a chic, youthful, bubblegum pink ensemble which was just perfect for the youngest Biden granddaughter. These girls continue to impress me and are already fulfilling their small, but important roles in the Biden family.
Let’s get into Michelle Obama’s look. Her monochrome burgundy-plum outfit was a big fan favorite (as is she) on the big day. It wasn’t just a plum moment; it was a pantsuit moment. Underneath her Sergio Hudson coat, she wore wide leg pants and an incredible gold, statement belt. Both Michelle and Vice President Harris chose to wear upcoming Black designers. Michelle’s belt is Sergio Hudson, a very new designer who has designed for Rihanna and Beyoncé in the past. VP Harris also wore Sergio Hudson shoes to the Inauguration. Even underneath the masks, I know Michelle Obama made some jaws drop, as she should.
Vice President Kamala Harris wore a beautiful indigo coat with the same monochrome theme for her big day. What she chose to wear must have been a nerve-wracking decision, considering the historic picture of swearing in the first African-American, first Asian-American, and first female Vice President will soon be a historic everywhere. Her jewelry made her statements subtle but powerful. She wore a pearl necklace, as she does for every big event, to pay tribute to her Howard University sorority, the first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Her Wilfred Rosado pearl necklace also honors the legacy of pearls in politics, dating back all the way back to Mary Todd Lincoln, who wore pearls to her husband’s inaugural ball. This VP clearly has a deep respect for the legacy of the office she has inherited and the legacy of women in the White House.
Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman absolutely stole the show*. Everyone was teary eyed during the incredible performance from the youngest Poet Laureate ever. From the moment she stepped up to the podium, in her yellow Prada coat, I knew to expect big things from her. The colors she chose were perfect for her role. They were beaming bright in the sun, and I just have to note the red satin headband atop her box braids that could not have been a better choice. Her earrings, gifted to her by Oprah, completed her polished, youthful look that only added to her wise message of hope and light.
Finally, we have Dr. Jill Biden. As I’m sure she was aware of the division in our country right now, Dr. Biden did not fail to deliver a First Lady outfit that united absolutely everyone in their love for it. In keeping with the jewel tones worn by Michelle Obama, Kamala Harris, and Hillary Clinton, she wore a turquoise tweed and velvet-lined coat with matching dress, gloves, and mask. Her coat was embellished with Swarovski crystals, making her shine each time the light hit the Inaugural stage. Her coat was designed by a young New York-based designer, Markarian, who chose the color "to signify trust, confidence, and stability." Jill Biden has a special loyalty to these upcoming, American designers. Even at the COVID memoriam, she wore a purple coat by Jonathan Cohen, a sustainable New York brand, which really is huge for sustainable fashion. Dr. Jill Biden continues to be the picture of grace, class, and American pride and I for one, cannot wait to see her get to work as our First Lady.
There is much more to say about the historic day, fashion-wise. Elizabeth Warren wore her Planned Parenthood scarf, Nancy Pelosi’s sported matching blue pumps (and the same mask she wore during the second impeachment trials), Meena Harris wore a stunning turquoise shearling coat with glitter boots, and Ella Emhoff’s (VP’s stepdaughter and current student at Parsons School of Design studying textiles) Miu Miu coat gave every fashion-political heart eyes.
Women play many roles in politics. Most importantly, they are decision makers, leaders, and public servants. Still, the legacy of women’s fashion as a mode of communication is echoed in today’s progressive setting. It is not shallow to say this. It acknowledges that women still exist under historical gender roles that society casts upon them, which they sometimes choose to powerfully reject, and other times conform to in order to convey a more subtle message that other women pick up on. The historical precedent of how women in the public eye dress is an entire language, and these women, new to the White House, are privy to mastering this undertone. Picking up on such messages and analyzing these women’s choices acknowledges the complex nature of American womanhood and teaches us how we can speak their language through our own choices as well.
The women we saw at the Inauguration demonstrated how to use fashion as a tool, secondary to their vocal messages, to tell the American people all that we have to look forward to in the next presidential term.
With their nods to their foremothers, diversity of silhouette, and, of course, masks all around, these women spoke to every woman in America, who were watching and listening for their personal message in this historic transition of power and switch in American narrative.
*Fact check: Bernie Sanders stole the show, wearing mittens made from recycled wool by a Vermont teacher who sells them at craft fairs