Nobody makes it to the position of Vice President—say nothing of being the first woman and woman of colour to hold that title—without having an uncanny ability to communicate with the public. And so it comes as no surprise that incoming Vice President Kamala Harris used inauguration day to make a simple, powerful statement about what her tenure will represent through the simplest mode of communication available to her: her clothing. For a moment that will, for a multitude of reasons, go down in history, Harris opted for a violet purple coat and matching dress by Christopher John Rogers, and shoes by Sergio Hudson.
The symbolism was two-fold. Rogers is among the most exciting emerging designers in America right now, a young Black man beloved by everyone from Zendaya to Lizzo, who represents, for many, an inclusive, optimistic future for fashion, as is Hudson, who counts Michelle Obama, Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae among his fans. The colour purple was an important choice too. While Joe Biden’s wife, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, opted to wear a powder blue coat dress, Harris’ bold display of purple—a merging of red and blue—represented a visual commitment to the partisan unity that both she and Biden have repeatedly claimed they will enact once in office.
In fact, the entire image of the inauguration—Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, Joe and Jill Biden—represented a masterclass in fashion optics. Both President Biden and Emhoff wore Ralph Lauren (Lauren, the son of poor Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who turned accessibly-priced high fashion into a $6 billion fashion empire, being the perfect embodiment of the so-called ‘American dream’), Harris wore Rogers and Hudson, and Biden wore Markarian, the emerging, New York-based brand by the young female designer Alexandra O’Neill. Among them, they spanned the full spectrum of what the Biden/Harris leadership is hoping to represent: the marriage of classic Democrat values with a new and inclusive vision for the future.
In a telling sign, when Melania and Donald Trump left the White House—they had refused, in an unprecedented move, to welcome the Bidens to their old residence—Melania wore black. A black skirt suit, black crocodile leather six-inch Louboutins, black oversized Bottega Veneta sunglasses, and a black crocodile skin Hermès Birkin. The sartorial contrast was a reminder—as if we needed one, of the nature of what today really represents. Not simply the ushering in of a new political era, but the symbolic death of the old one—the end, hopefully, of a time in which the First Lady finds it appropriate to wear a $71,000 handbag while millions of Americans battle for a life-saving stimulus check. It was perhaps the closest the outgoing First Lady to come to wearing an ‘I Don’t Really Care, Do U?’ jacket. But the messages came through, loud and clear, regardless.