On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C., Joe Biden officially took office as the 46th President of the United States.
The day also marked one of the most fashionable days in politics. For the ceremony, the former senator from Delaware was sworn into office from the West Front of the U.S. Capitol wearing a Ralph Lauren single-breasted navy suit, winter overcoat and a matching mask. By his side, new First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wore a custom tweed coat and a matching dress embellished with Swarovski crystals by Alexandra O’Neill of the NYC-based label, Markarian, paired with Jimmy Choo heels.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who made history becoming the first woman, first Black person and first South East Asian American sworn in as Vice President of The United States, opted for a violet coat and matching dress by rising Black American designer Christopher John Rogers and shoes by Sergio Hudson. Other stylish attendees included Barack and Michelle Obama, George and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and many members of Congress.
And then there was Bernie Sanders.
Taking in the festivities from a socially-distanced fold-up chair, the beloved senator from Vermont, and one-time presidential hopeful, was decidedly dressed down in a brown khaki coat and a disposable face mask.
He also kept warm in the 44-degree weather with a pair of cozy knitted mittens which, according to Buzzfeed‘s political reporter, Ruby Cramer, were made by Jen Ellis, a teacher from Essex Junction in Vermont. Given to the senator over two years ago and then worn on the campaign trail, the cold-weather accessory is made from repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.
Almost immediately, memes and tweets commenting on Sanders’ everyday look went viral.
“No one can look at those gloves and think he shouldn’t Chair the Senate Budget Committee,” one person tweeted.
“I see everyone mocking Bernie’s ‘grandpa at the post office’ vibe today but those mittens are clutch,” tweeted Grace Segers, a political reporter for CBS News.
The utter ordinariness of his outfit certainly stuck out among the sea of black suits and colorful coats and, to be honest, we aren’t even mad about it. Totally on brand for the grassroots leader, it was a refreshingly real, “hey, this is what I wear when I’m cold” moment.
But god forbid, does this mean we are making a case for the return of normcore? The eyeroll-inducing term refers to the unisex fashion trend characterized by, like it sounds, normal-looking clothing. The word first appeared in the webcomic Templar, Arizona before 2009 and was later employed by K-HOLE, a trend forecasting group in an October 2013 report called “Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom.”
As used by K-HOLE, the word normcore refers to an attitude, not a particular code of dress. It was intended to mean “finding liberation in being nothing special. However, a piece in New York Magazine by author, Fiona Duncan, that began popularizing the term in February 2014 conflated it with what K-HOLE referred to as “Acting Basic,” a concept which involved dressing neutrally to avoid standing out. It was this sense of normcore that gained popular usage. The term became so popular, it was even named runner-up for ‘Neologism Of The Year’ by the Oxford University Press in 2014 and was added to the AP Stylebook in 2016.
Normcore wearers were described as people who did not wish to distinguish themselves from others by their clothing. Not to mean that they are unfashionable, but that they consciously choose clothes that are functional and undistinguished. The normcore trend was interpreted as a reaction to fashion over-saturation resulting from ever faster changing fashion trends. The characters featured on the television series Seinfeld were frequently cited as exemplifying the aesthetics and ethos of normcore fashion, a fitting comparison with Sanders who was famously parodied on SNL by Larry David.
Academy Award-nominated director David Fincher even directed a series of ads for The Gap’s Fall 2014 collection, a campaign called “Dress Normal,” which embraces the brand’s longtime status as an arbiter of normcore.
As for Sanders’ much-buzzed “normal” looking appearance on Inauguration Day, he says it’s not a reflection of his enthusiasm for the new president but was just being practical.
“In Vermont, we dress warm – we know something about the cold. And we’re not so concerned about good fashion,” Sanders told CBS This Morning’s Gayle King with a laugh. “We want to keep warm. And that’s what I did today.”