Kamala Harris has undoubtedly broken barriers throughout her career. She is the first woman and woman of color to hold the vice-presidency of the United States. After Donald Trump’s seemingly eternal rule, Harris’ win feels like a beam of hope in the midst of great chaos. It is a victory for all minorities—for those who were brutally bombarded with hatred for the past four years.
And for Harris herself, it wasn’t exactly an easy ride. The daughter of two immigrants, the vice president had to work hard to get to where she is today. She studied political science and economics at Howard University and then pursued a law degree at the University of California. Through perseverance, she became Attorney General of California in 2010 and served as senator from 2017 to 2021.
In 2020, Harris ran for president in the Democratic primary but unfortunately failed to gain wide popularity. Nonetheless, Joe Biden picked her as his running mate. He considered her to be specially fit to fight for working people and take down the Trump administration. Finally, in January of this year, she officially became the vice president of the United States.
Kamala Harris seems to have done the impossible, but the media has far from exempted her from scrutiny. However, seemingly against all odds, it’s her fashion choices in particular which have been subject to endless commentary. But why exactly is that? Is the vice-president’s fashion sense really that meaningful? Does it hold any tangible importance?
The Importance of Fashion in Politics
It is undeniable that fashion and politics are linked in many ways. Nonetheless, it is also undeniable that fashion has only been historically relevant to politics when it comes to women. For instance, when was the last time you read an article on the fashion of Biden, Trump or Obama? What about an article on the fashion of Jill Biden, Melania Trump or Michelle Obama?
Surely, the focus on the wardrobe of the first lady is no new phenomenon. Marie Antoinette’s excessive spending habits famously spurred the French Revolution. Centuries later, Jackie Kennedy was similarly criticized for her purchasing tendencies. She even resorted to buying American-made copies of European designs to boost her patriotic image.
Of course, one might argue that the president and the first lady do not play the same role. While the former is elected to rule, the latter is not. Therefore, expecting both to be held up to the same standards would be absurd. Nevertheless, first ladies are not the only ones who are repeatedly criticized for their sartorial choices.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has been continuously revered for her fashion sense. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been endlessly ridiculed because of her fondness of pantsuits. Indeed, women in politics—like all women—can never escape objectification. They are always expected to look a certain way. Consequently, they are always burdened by extra weight, which steals focus from what actually matters to them: their political platforms.
Paradoxically, however, Kamala Harris has found a way to use her fashion choices to combat their own importance.
Is Kamala Harris Dressing to Not Impress?
Neutrality as Empowering
In general, Harris’ fashion could be deemed unremarkable. She seems to gravitate towards pantsuits, white shirts, skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors (Converse). All of the above are not particularly fashionable pieces, nor are they particularly unfashionable. In that, her outfits seem to do, well, nothing. She does not stand out when surrounded by her male counterparts. In fact, she seems to perfectly blend in the male-dominated world of politics. That’s precisely where the genius of her fashion lies.
Due to its neutrality, the media cannot criticize Harris’ style, nor can it praise it. Hence, the media will most likely abstain from bringing it up. Thus, by subscribing to a passive style, Kamala Harris seems to have managed to free herself from a burden. She has come as close as she can to being treated as a politician first and fashion icon second.
Still, could it be possible that Harris’ fashion choices carry more meaning than one might think?
Choices that Convey a Message
Each of Kamala Harris’ mentioned staples carries a particular meaning with them. Her pearls, for example, are an homage to her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Its founders were referred to as the “Twenty Pearls. ” Accordingly, each new member receives a badge with 20 pearls. A historically black institution, Alpha Kappa Alpha encourages black women to achieve. Thus, by wearing pearls, Harris aims to do the same thing. It is a reminder that, like the “Twenty Pearls” and Harris herself, women of color can do anything.
Furthermore, her Chuck Taylors and skinny jeans give Harris an air of familiarity and relatability. She literally looks like the people and, therefore, gives the impression that she understands them. Her use of casual attire drives voters to trust and root for her, as she is one of them. Moreover, the vice president’s refusal of formality makes her seem more authentic.
Finally, Kamala Harris’ preference for pantsuits inherently carries some historical meaning. The pantsuit gained mainstream popularity in the 1980s. It allowed women to appropriate the uniform of the patriarch and empower themselves in the process. Ridiculous as it might seem, a woman wearing a pantsuit still represents a challenge to the phallocracy.
Despite these hidden meanings, the politician’s fashion choices still seem simple and neutral. That’s precisely why, when they differ, they attract so much attention.
Kamala Harris: The Queen of Symbols
Despite the vice president’s generally passive style, Harris occasionally goes all out in order to convey a message. She sometimes chooses to use a woman’s obligation to be fashionable as a tool. Standing out can be useful when one is trying to make a point, and Harris seems to understand that.
The Rainbow Sequined Jacket
In 2019, when she was a US Senator, Harris made a rather conspicuous appearance at the San Francisco Pride Parade. Her eye-catching shiny rainbow jacket screamed support for the LGBT+ community. Indeed, she was still a presidential candidate at that point, and such advocacy was part of her political platform.
The White Suit
In 2020, the vice president wore a white Carolina Herrera suit for her acceptance speech. The suit’s brand symbolized Harris’ support for people of color, being that Carolina Herrera is a Venezuelan-American brand. Furthermore, its white tone was a direct reference to the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Harris thus managed to show her support for both feminist and POC causes through a single garment.
The Statement Camel Coat
Kamala Harris wore a camel coat to the memorial for the victims of COVID-19 on January 19th of this year. She once again managed to send a double message through her choice.
The coat was Pyer Moss, a black-owned brand known for its activism. Through its evocative designs, it attempts to fight for the end of the oppression of POC. Additionally, the house donated substantial amounts of money to healthcare workers and small businesses at the start of the epidemic.
Hence, through her coat, Harris showed support for POC causes. The garment also translated her engagement in the fight against the catastrophic consequences of the pandemic.
The All-Purple Outfit
Harris wore a purple coat and dress by black designer Christopher John Rogers to the recent presidential inauguration. You can see the outfit on the cover picture of this article. She chose to pair it with Sergio Hudson’s heels. Hence, once again, the politician conspicuously supported black-owned businesses.
Additionally, the purple tone of her garments symbolized an aspiration to unite the country. Surely, mixing red and blue, the colors of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively results in purple.
But it doesn’t stop there. Purple is also associated with the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Harris thus pleads allegiance to the feminist agenda through her look in the first moments of her vice-presidency.
A Masterful Use of Fashion Diplomacy
All and all, it seems that Kamala Harris has mastered fashion diplomacy. She uses it to both rid herself of an unfair burden and conveys political messages. The current vice president of the United States is paving the way for future generations of female politicians. We will most likely look back at her style as legendary and game-changing.
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