Joe Biden and Kamala Harris showcased American designers at their inauguration Wednesday, and Harris gave a nod to women’s suffrage, Shirley Chisholm and her beloved sorority in pearls and purple.
Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush also donned hues of purple. Harris has cited Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, as an inspiration for her career. Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black major-party candidate to run for U.S. president.
Pearls had a strong fashion showing, in line with a social media campaign that had inauguration watchers donning strands in support and celebration of Harris. Nobody in attendance did them quite like Jennifer Lopez — from earrings to bracelets — as she sang “This Land is Your Land” in head-to-toe white Chanel.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, wore a pearl necklace owned by Chisholm herself. It was a gift from Chisholm’s goddaughter.
“Because of Shirley Chisholm, I am,” Lee, who is Black, posted on Twitter. “Because of Shirley Chisholm, Vice President Harris is.”
The pearls Harris wore, by Wilfredo Rosado, were also a symbol of unity with her sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African American Greek-letter sorority, said Rachel Torgerson, fashion features director for Cosmopolitan. The sorority’s founders are referred to as the “Twenty Pearls.” Every new member receives a badge adorned with 20 pearls.
Harris attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.
“There’s no doubt that every part of her look today celebrates who she is, where she came from and where she hopes to lead the country. Every piece was carefully considered and packed with meaning,” Torgerson said.
Like Harris, Rosado is the child of immigrants.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew fashion praise on social media for his cozy, comfortable inauguration wear: His signature beige parka and a pair of knit patterned mittens. The look earned him his own inauguration Bobblehead to mark his viral fashion moment. It’s now on pre-sale for $25 at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum’s online store.
Jill Biden wore an ocean blue wool tweed coat over a dress by American designer Alexandra O’Neill of the Markarian label. The new first lady’s matching coat and dress included a velvet collar and cuffs on the coat, and a chiffon bodice and scalloped skirt on the dress. The neckline of the dress is embellished with Swarovski pearls and crystals. The same crystals adorn the coat. The outfit was handcrafted in New York City.
Aides said Harris was dressed in Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson. Both are Black designers, Rogers from Louisiana and Hudson from South Carolina. Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, wore a Ralph Lauren suit.
Michelle Obama, a fashion icon, drew praise from fans on social media for her belted pantsuit in plum, also by Hudson.
Joe Biden wore a navy blue suit and overcoat by Ralph Lauren. It was a change from Brooks Brothers, the oldest U.S. clothier at 202. The brand has outfitted 41 of the 46 American presidents, including Barack Obama during his inauguration in 2009.
Brooks Brothers fell on hard financial times last year, when it filed for bankruptcy reorganization and announced a planned sale. Ralph Lauren has a history of nonpartisan dressing, including moments with Michelle Obama and outgoing first lady Melania Trump. Joe Biden wore Polo shirts, emblazoned with the label’s pony and polo player logo, to take both of his COVID-19 vaccinations on television.
Véronique Hyland, fashion features director for Elle magazine, noted the wins for young American designers.
“They chose a diverse group of talents — Christopher John Rogers, Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond, Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill and Jonathan Cohen — to be a part of this historic moment,” she said. “It made for a meaningful statement at this particular time, when all small businesses, including fashion businesses, are in need of support and spotlighting.”
Harris’ choice to wear pieces by Black designers “felt particularly significant in light of her triply historic title as the first female, Black and Asian American vice president of our country,” Hyland added.
As for the color purple, it was a symbol of unity and bipartisanship. Republican Red and Democratic blue make purple.
“If there’s a message to be taken from today’s inauguration fashion, it’s that those who attended are signaling faith in unity and bipartisanship, as well as restoring truth and trust,” Torgerson said.
Hillary Clinton confirmed she wore “purple with a purpose,” telling The Associated Press: “I want to just send a bit of a symbolic message that we need to come together.”
Lady Gaga went for red and let her pin do the talking. She sang the national anthem in a lavish custom Schiaparelli gown designed by Daniel Roseberry with a full red skirt and a navy coat adorned with a humongous gold dove holding an olive branch. Garth Brooks went another way: country. He performed “Amazing Grace” holding his black cowboy hat and dressed in blue denim jeans paired with a black suit jacket and shirt.
Another inauguration fashion star on Twitter was Nikolas Ajagu, the husband of Harris’ niece, Meena Harris. Sharp-eyed sneakerheads noted his ultra-rare and pricey Air Dior Jordan 1 shoes. The Dior 1s, a collaboration between Dior and Jordan, debuted last year and retail for $2,000. They’re reportedly going for up to $7,000 on some sneaker resell sites.
Harris’ stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, schooled some of the older folks in her embellished Shetland Miu Miu coat in a pied de poule pattern with a large brown button at the neck and a pointed collar.
“To put it quite plainly, over the last four years we’ve been starved for fashion choices from the White House that are thoughtful and intentional for the sake of the greater good,” said Nikki Ogunnaike, digital director for Harper’s Bazaar.
This story was first published on January 20, 2021. It was updated on January 21, 2021, to correct the fact that Meena Harris is Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece, not her sister.