The inauguration ceremony is the place for the incoming president to make their appeal to the American people. Famous inaugural addresses become ingrained in presidential legacies such as Franklin Roosevelt’s famous line “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and John F. Kennedy’s often quoted “don't ask what country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.” Less remembered is the fashion worn to one of the most significant events in American politics, however the fashion choices of high profile attendees can be equally as powerful to strengthen and impact a presidential message and policy focus. The following is a run down on the most important fashion moments of the inauguration and what they might mean for the future of the Biden administration.
Purple was popping off the screen on Wednesday’s broadcast. Vice President Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama were all spotted wearing shades of the eye catching color. Dr. Jill Biden wore a purple colored coat with a matching mask the night before at the Covid-19 Memorial service. Purple is commonly associated with bipartisanship, a message which tracks with President Biden’s assertions of being a president for all Americans and swearing to work with Republicans in efforts aimed toward unity. It is also strongly associated with the suffragette movement, making it a subtle statement from four very influential women.
2. American Designers
Equally as powerful as the color is the choice in designer. American designers were at the forefront of the clothing ensembles that were shown off on Jan. 20. At his swearing-in ceremony Biden wore the household name and American designer Ralph Lauren matching Clinton’s Lauren ensemble. Dr. Biden wore Alexandra O’Neill from clothing label Markarian. The three year-old clothing brand is dedicated to creating sustainable clothing, an ethical commitment which falls in line with the Biden administration's focus on climate change.
Of course much of the focus was taken by Ella Emhoff, stepdaughter of Harris who underneath her iconic coat wore American designer Batsheva Hay to signal a commitment to American-made fashion throughout the second family.
3. Minority Designers
The inauguration was also a big day for minority designers. Obama chose her favorite Sergio Hudson, a Black designer she has worked closely with before. Hudson was also responsible for the black dress Harris wore on inauguration night. The American designer did not underplay the significance of the opportunity saying "you always dream and hope as an American designer that your design could end up here [at the inauguration]. But to see it come to pass, it’s just a moment."
Louisiana designer Christopher John Rogers said of creating the bright purple dress for the Vice President that he was “honored and humbled to have played a small part in this historic moment.”
Harris also chose to wear Kerby Jean Raymond of brand Pyer Moss at the Covid-19 Memorial service. A fitting decision considering Raymond is a Haitian-American designer from New York City who voluntarily shifted his studio into a PPE donation center as well as creating grants for women and minority-owned businesses affected by the pandemic.
What all these designers have in common is having an ethos that matches the Biden administration's stated commitment to youth, minorities and the U.S. people.
4. Amanda Gorman
22 year old poet laureate and social activist Amanda Gorman followed in the footsteps of her hero Maya Angelou when she took the stage to recite her poem “The Hill We Climb.” Not only did her poem stun its audience in its sincerity and heart, but the ring she was wearing was a statement in itself. Gorman tweeted “I wore a ring of a caged bird--a gift from Oprah for the occasion, to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet.”
While Gorman may not be directly in the Biden administration, her commitment to activism and optimism reflects the goals of the new President and his staff, who hope to unite the country behind progressive action and united change.
5. Bernie and His Mittens
Progressive icon Bernie Sanders was spotted wearing his infamous coat and thick mittens. Twitter was quick to jump on this train with several tweets pointing out the outfit and his pose, such as Grace Segers writing on Twitter "I see everyone mocking Bernie's "grandpa at the post office" vibe today but those mittens are clutch" and actor George Takei tweeting "for all the fabulous outfits, gold dove pins, and tasteful yet elegant ensembles, who would have guessed that a beat up old jacket and a pair of wool mittens would win Bernie most meme’d look of the day."
Of course, just like much of the other inauguration fashion choices Sanders had a message in mind as well. The mittens were a gift from Vermont school teacher Jen Ellis, who made them from wool sweaters and fleece created from recycled plastic bottles. The coat was also made by a Vermont outerwear company. Although the Vermont Senator was quick to point out he just wanted to stay warm because "in Vermont, we dress, we know something about the cold. . . and we're not so concerned about good fashion. We just want to keep warm. And that's what I did."
Even so, Bernie's mittens will be one of the most memorable consequences of the 2021 inauguration.
Now all that is left to do is wait and see if the Biden administration follows through on the promises and commitments that began with their well-established fashion identities.