In four years, the white pantsuit has become a wearable form of resistance against the Trump administration. Hillary Clinton wore one during a presidential debate. The Democratic women of Congress coordinated theirs for last year’s State of the Union.
When Melania Trump put on hers in 2018, a spark ignited: Had she chosen the suffragette-aligning color to troll her husband? (Now, as she staunchly defends him on Twitter, the answer is, probably no.)
There is no easier or faster way to communicate a popular feminism than the white suit. So it made sense that Kamala Harris wore one to accept her momentous victory this weekend as the first female and woman of color vice president.
Harris came onto the Chase Center stage in Wilmington, Delaware clad in a visual rendering of exuberance—it was impossible to take one’s eye off of the senator who reinvigorated, and no doubt helped cinch, Joe Biden’s campaign. (Even more impressive: a matter of hours later, the Saturday Night Live wardrobe department replicated it for Maya Rudolph—who plays Harris on the show.)
Harris has never been one to overthink her wardrobe. She dresses like what she is—a working woman and former prosecutor who understands the need to appear polished but unfussy. Her go-to is a black suit; she made an ever-so-slight departure when she showed up to the Democratic National Convention in a burgundy one.
So while winning was on everyone’s mind Saturday, Harris’ choice of outfit seemed almost like a concession to a nation eager for symbolism and national pride. Maybe we should not get too used to the sight of Harris looking as flashy as she did in her Carolina Herrera suit; she is a politician who dresses to work, not to be seen.
That ethos itself will be a change for those watching Washington after four years where women in Trump’s administration—Ivanka, Melania, Kayleigh McEnany, Hope Hicks, et al—so clearly do dress to be seen. Their clothes, often shift dresses or pencil skirts, were often adornments that spoke louder than they did. It was fabric to hide behind, outfits to tell lies in and hope no one noticed because the tailoring was so pretty.
That’s not Harris’ style. As the nation embraces its first female vice president, one hopes her style will not be covered by the fashion establishment in the same breathless way fans follow first ladies or female members of the British royal family. (Though, as Vanessa Friedman noted in The New York Times, that there is already a style blog tracking her outfits called WhatKamalaWore.)
How we will talk about Harris’ clothing remains to be seen; it could be a blueprint going forward for future political fashion discourse. It is evident that Harris, and her imaging team, deftly understand how to make a sartorial statement. But she will probably opt for something less dramatic in her day-to-day dressing.
And yet, as social media props her up as an avatar of female empowerment, it is naive to think that her style will not be discussed or adored by fans in the same way it was with Hillary Clinton’s #PantsuitNation.
As Chloe Foussianes argued in Town & Country last month, Harris’ clothing is intentionally vague, stripped of many embellishments that communicate messages. “The vice presidential candidate’s outfits present little to read into, rejecting the obligation placed on women politicians to speak with their clothing,” she wrote.
Except for this weekend. When it came time to celebrate, Harris shone boldly and brightly on stage, proving she can work a crowd with her fashion the same way she can with her fervent rhetoric.
But on Monday, as the nation returned to a work week after a few days of revelry and dancing in the street, Harris went back to her basics for a coronavirus advisory council meeting—a grey suit, orange pussybow blouse, and American flag lapel.