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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

How Important is Inauguration Fashion?

This was the president that we were waiting for, a history-making vice-president, following a terrible attack egged on by a failed excuse of a leader before them. With all of that before us, is the inauguration fashion actually important? 

As someone who has worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years, and seeing most of my friends and colleagues lose their jobs in recent times, any buzz about the industry is only good. Besides that, is fashion really relevant to the country at large? The outfit choices of political wives were traditionally reported on as a way to engage women of decades past who were assumed to have no interest in politics otherwise. Also, what is acceptable for male political fashion was and still is pretty limited for creativity.  

Now there is a Second Gentleman instead of a Lady. There were plenty of female writers joking about getting the details of Doug Emhoff's outfit today. The details were that President Joe Biden and Doug Emhoff wore Ralph Lauren, an American designer whose brand has been present at most significant events of this country. Lauren has provided Olympic uniforms, dressed award shows, and positioned his brand as the American establishment. It makes sense.

All of the women on stage today are highly accomplished, and there are so many topics to discuss that should be more relevant. However, the reality is that the fashion questions will always be asked. The women have been very strategic in using clothing to help elevate their message rather than a distraction. 

The First Lady wore a matching blue outfit by Alexandra O'Neill for the label Markarian. The blue was meant to "signify trust, confidence, and stability." Blue is also the color associated with the Democratic party. The less obvious statement, but important to the fashion industry and the country, is that it was designed and manufactured in New York's garment district. A visual statement of supporting industry at home.

Jill Biden's outfit the evening before was purple, a statement of intention of bipartisanship. The chosen designer was indie Jonathan Cohen, known for upcycling and passion for sustainability.

Today, many women posted they would wear "Pearls and Chucks" today in honor of Vice President Kamala Harris.  Her fashion choices have all been in support of a larger message. Her signature pearls reference her sorority, while her footwear is representative of her confidence and comfort. She wore a white Carolina Herrera suit with a pussy-bow blouse when she accepted Biden's running mate's role. The color was symbolic of the women suffrage movement, the blouse a nod to England's first female Prime Minister. 

Her pre-inauguration look included a coat by Kerby Jean-Raymond, the Haitian-American designer of Pyer Moss. He has used his fashion shows to promote Black Lives Matter and express other messages of resistance. However, when the pandemic hit, he repurposed his studio into a donation center, donating PPE and grants to women/minority-owned businesses that took a hit during the crisis. 

Kamala Harris's inauguration look was by another African-American designer. Her purple look (also bipartisan in color) was from Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson's shoes. Her choices of lesser-known American designers (in the mainstream) lifts the profiles of indie labels overall, struggling hard in this pandemic.

Harris's choices follow in First Lady Michelle Obama's footsteps, who made household names of many designers who might have been respected within fashion circles but not known to the average citizen. Jason Wu, Byron Lars, Tracy Reese were all celebrated for contributing to Obama's fashion icon status. She also drove interest in smaller labels in general, boosting the industry as a whole.

Today was yet another opportunity for Michelle Obama to add to her style fame. Her plum-colored ensemble was also by Sergio Hudson. I saw lots of love for her look from my colleagues on social media. There was even a good number of posts merely to appreciate her belt. 

Speaking of accessory love, Bernie Sanders got quite a bit of attention for his knitted mittens.
His cold-weather seated photo is the most popular meme right now, but as a man not usually known for fashion statements, this was a good one. Fans liked the bold pattern and home-grown look, knitted by Vermont schoolteacher Jen Ellis from upcycled sweaters and recycled plastic. I can't imagine anything more on-brand for Bernie than that. 

New faces that I loved? Poet-laureate Amanda Gorman moved everyone with her poem "The Hill We Climb." Her bright yellow Prada coat and red headband, together with her beautiful smile, were like sunbeams across the great lawn. Her jewelry, on the other hand, was more meaningful. A gift from Oprah Winfrey, her birdcage ring was a reference to legendary Maya Angelou, who read her poetry at Bill Clinton's inauguration.

All the nerdy girls had a crush on Elle Emhoff. She was the breakout darling of the day with her talented eyebrows and jewel-embroidered tweed coat by Miu Miu. Her dress was from Batsheva and a headband by Loeffler Randall. While she wore designer goods today, you might find her wearing her own creations most of the time. She is a textiles senior at Parsons School of Design, with a talent for crochet and bright colors.

Did any outfit today intrigue you? Has inauguration fashion ever inspired you to learn more about the designer or what they represent? Let me know!

All photos by Getty

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