Kamala Harris’s Debate Fashion Statement Was So Subtle, You Likely Missed It
Photo credit: Raydene Hansen - Getty Images
Just before the Vice Presidential Debate began last night, I came across a tweet from actress and director Elizabeth Banks. "I hope Mike Pence smiles enough, is personable, and doesn't come across as angry," she said in the sarcastic letter that went viral. "Besides, OMG, what will he wear?"
It was a searing criticism of the double standards women are bound to, a funny one because it's painfully true summary. Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and the first black and South Asian woman on a major party ticket, faces a particularly unfair and difficult balancing act when it comes to reaching out to American voters - and that includes her choice of campaign clothing.
Harris has withdrawn completely from the fashion discussion, especially for the most visible moment of the campaign to date. The Senator chose a classic dark blue trouser suit and a color-coordinated top with a round neckline underneath. It looked very familiar to anyone who watched her style over the last year of the campaign, first in the primaries and now in the general election. Harris, a former prosecutor and prosecutor, has long preferred the uniform of her profession. Lawyers often rely on dark suits in their court appearances to ensure their serious sensitivity and usefulness in upholding outdated male standards.
By choosing neutral hues, Harris stepped into this political position in the footsteps of her predecessors. In 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate and Congressman Geraldine Ferraro wore a gray and beige blazer when she competed against Vice President George W. Bush. More than two decades later, Republican vice-presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin wore a black skirt suit when she faced Senator Joe Biden.
A glimpse of personal style or a moment of flashy fashion torch was available to these women. In 2008, Palin added a pair of ruby red heels to her suit. Also, think about what Hillary Clinton wore for her trio of presidential debates in 2016. She opted for a range of bespoke pant suits, all from Ralph Lauren. Her first look was a bold cherry ensemble with a red lip and bow accents on her kitten heels. Her second and third appearances were navy and white suits. Together, the three looks make up the American flag.
And Harris herself has tried herself in fashionable moments that show her personality. In one of the main debates last fall, she stood out on the crowded Democratic candidate stage in a gray pants suit and a deep scarlet pussy-bow top underneath. On the campaign trail this fall, she made headlines for her awesome shoes, including Timberland boots and her signature Converse sneakers.
Credit: SAUL LOEB - Getty Images
But Harris didn't lean into fashion for last night's debate - and it had good reasons. As a woman of color, she adheres to an impossible standard. By not wearing anything that stood out as conspicuous or otherwise, there was little to hold on to and criticize. (Though Megyn Kelly still figured out a way, of course.) Her choice also ensured there was no chance that fashion could be distracting or even a topic of conversation. This is a dire moment in our history, with more than 210,000 deaths from COVID-19 and a president refusing to condemn white supremacy. A classic suit with no distinguishing or differentiating design elements meant there was no rush to even identify the label. On the debate stage, with its royal blue background, the dark suit meant that the viewer's gaze was fixed on her face - on her words.
The special element of Harris' ensemble was her necklace, a single strand of white pearls each with smaller blue or even turquoise accents. It softened the suit and added glamor, but far more meaningful was the meaning the necklace had. Pearls have become a trademark of Harris and are regularly seen around her neck and ears. At Howard University, she was a member of the first sisterhood for black Greek letters, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Pearls are a symbol of the group; The founders were known as Twenty Pearls. “A pearl is defined as a precious thing. the best example of something, ”read a 2017 Facebook post. Glenda Glover, the Sisterhood's international president and president of Tennessee State University, told Vanity Fair. "Pearls represent refinement and wisdom." It is a reminder that some of the most powerful fashion messages are not shouted but whispered.
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