That’s not an excerpt from a sexist children’s book; it’s just an observation. Harris, the first woman of color to join a major party’s national ticket, owns a professional wardrobe fit for a longtime politician. Like most of her fellow male senators, Harris favors black or navy suits. Unlike them, Harris’ fairly standard outfits must mean something in the fashion world, just because she is a woman.
“Does Kamala Harris’s Style Reflect Anything About Her Politics?” a Vogue headline from this week wondered. The question was not necessarily answered in the 380-word story, but its author did praise Harris’ “relatable high-low mix” of clothing. “The message? That Harris is not only of the people but for them.”
Style authorities from Vogue to Footwear News especially love Harris’ fondness for Converse shoes. She has been photographed in a few pairs while out campaigning.
According to Vogue, her acceptance of one of the most ubiquitous brands of sneakers obviously implies that “the vice-presidential candidate is a woman willing to do the leg work to propel positive change.”
America may be ready for its first female vice president, but are we prepared for the onslaught of fashion criticism that will besiege her?
This is not to say that a woman cannot wield power and a sense of style at the same time, or that clothing is not important. Politics is an optics game and getting dressed matters.
It’s not wrong to talk about political fashion, no matter the gender of the subject. You can tell a lot about a figure based on what they wear. Trump’s extra-long ties mimic his slovenly leadership, and Joe Biden’s blindingly white teeth posit a studied affability.
The “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” coat that Melania Trump wore to visit detained immigrant children in Texas, or the pith hat she put on for a trip to Africa are wearable manifestations of the coldness of her husband’s administration.
Clothing can humanize politicians. Elizabeth Warren’s gem tone jackets conjured cozy images of local librarians. It can also highlight inaccessibility and accessibility.
After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore gold hoop earrings to her swearing-in ceremony in 2019, the native New Yorker wrote, “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman.”
AOC’s hoops are part of her bigger origin story. But there’s a tediousness to reading clothes that have nothing to say. Harris wears black suits because that’s what has always been done. If the suit is secretly trying to tell us anything, it might be that Harris understands how the status quo works, which is precisely the largest issue many voters have with the former top cop.
Let’s gag over the politicians who get clothing so, so right: see, Tim Kaine’s Wild West face mask bandana, which made him look like a train robber and brought a little bit of levity to the darkest period of quarantine.
Let’s never let others forget their embarrassing sartorial gaffes... Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer kneeling for Black lives while wearing kente clothes, what are you doing?
Freaking out over an entirely average piece of clothing is nothing new; plenty of self-proclaimed girl-bosses leaned into Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit dress code. The outfit epitomized what many see as Clinton’s fatal flaw, her oversimplification of what it means to truly be feminist.
As we enter the scorched twilight phase of the 2020 election, we will continue to see a lot of Kamala Harris. Who knows what she will decide to wear. But if you’re a betting person, put your money on a lot of staid, appropriate suits. If she wears something truly wild, it should be covered. Until then, there is much more to focus on.