In the words of Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, “Politics isn’t binary. It’s this system we’re in and all the ways it manifests… And, yes, there’s the politics of your clothes.” Fashion is inherently political and mirrors our time.
We saw the early 1940s give rise to women’s professional clothes while the men were off fighting in World War II; these simple and austere lines are still seen today by every woman in the professional world. We saw the 1960’s image of the Black Panther Party in their black leather jackets revolutionising the fashion of activism in the United States. We saw a resurgence of Black Panther-inspired outfits as Black Lives Matter protests enlightened the world of the disparities communities of colour face in the United States.
Source: History Today
The list of significant changes in fashion due to politics goes on and on, but all eyes turned to Kamala Harris as she gave her acceptance speech as the new Vice President-elect. Her bold political statement in a white Carolina Herrera suit and silk pussy-bow blouse will be timeless. While Harris can never live up to the fashion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Selina Meyer of HBO’s Veep, her first fashion statement as America’s next Vice President did impress.
Harris’ white suit honoured the 1900’s women’s suffrage movement. The white colour was enforced as a feminist symbol in the 1910s when women’s movements used undyed garments because of its accessibility and strong appearance in pictures. But, the colour white represents more than just female empowerment. Harris’ mother is of Indian descent, and in Hindu culture, the colour white represents purity, peace, knowledge, and spiritual rebirth. White is also seen commonly in Indian funerals. Through her Vice Presidential campaign, Harris argued against the Trump administration with regards to their COVID-19 response, memorialising 200,000 Americans who have passed away from COVID due to Trump and his administration’s horrible response. While the white represents a new beginning, and hopefulness for the future, it also honours all the Americans who lost their lives during this worldwide pandemic.
In addition to the message shown through the colour white, monochromatic outfits have been a symbol of black power in America. Thought to be inspired by the black church choir outfits, monochromatic looks evolved to matching suit colours in jazz bands with the zoot suit. The jazz age aesthetic still remains with many modern consumers asking for slimmer cut suits in bright colours. Making a bold statement, Harris uses her monochromatic look to celebrate her black heritage.
Source: Harper’s Bazaar
The tailored Carolina Herrera silhouette is similar to the suits seen all over Washington’s political scene, but the pussy-bow blouse reinforced the feminist. The pussy-bow perpetuated stereotypes surrounding the fragility of femininity as bows tied around the necks of house cats in the early 20th century were adapted to be on women’s blouses, symbolising that women are housebound, just like their cats. However, in the latter half of the 2010s, the pussy-bow finally became a symbol of protest. In 2016 the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape of President Donald Trump’s “locker room talk.” Not 24 hours later, Melania Trump was seen with a bright pink Gucci pussy-bow blouse. Though Melania Trump refused to comment on the fashion statement, her pussy-bow led to a series of celebrities endorsing Hillary Clinton with a “Don’t Grab My Pussy Bow” campaign. This revolutionised the housewife connotations of the pussy-bow and solidified its status as a feminist symbol. In 2018, men and women took to the streets in pussy-bow blouses in support of Sara Danus who was under fire after the actions of her husband, and despite the Trump administration’s adamant denial of Melania Trump’s fashion statement in 2016, the FLOTUS came back with a pussy-bow in a speech about destructive social media behaviour, something her husband practices a lot. Harris’ pussy-bow showed solidarity with women. Atop the striking suit, the pussy-bow was a cherry on top of her power suit.
Designer Carolina Herrera has made it clear that she does not want to be intertwined with politics. In the past she made this clear, dressing First Ladies Jacqueline Onassis, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. Her political alliances have always been unclear, making Carolina Herrera’s collaboration with Kamala Harris here seem perfect. While Harris’ achievement as the first female Vice President-elect is historic and worthy of praise, her political career has been full of contradictions as she supports opposing ideas. As a district attorney in San Francisco, she did not pursue the death penalty, but as attorney general in California, she defended the state’s death penalty. While she created programs to keep non-violent, first-time offenders out of jail, she also kept people in jail past their release dates and put many black people in jail for non-violent crimes. She supports gay rights and outlawed the “gay panic defense,” but she put trans women in men’s prison. The list of her inconsistent ideologies continues, and wearing Carolina Herrera shows her contradictions yet again as Harris seems to be unable to make up her mind and keep her alliances straight.