From Gaga’s Schiaparelli dove to vice president Kamala Harris’ all-purple outfit, fashion offered up powerful messages at the history-making event
There were plenty of reasons for celebration yesterday in Washington DC as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America and Kamala Harris became the first woman, the first African American, and the first Asian American vice-president. In addition to kicking out one the bitter orange that is Donald Trump out of the White House, this power duo brought a much-needed new chapter to global politics as Biden professed: “Democracy has prevailed”.
While several traditional proceedings were skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inauguration brought some serious fashion (back) into the American capital, with many looks imbued with subtle messaging. Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama went for monochromatic purple and maroon respectively – a White House staple since the days of Jackie O, but, as fashion historian Shelby Ivey Christie noted, monochromatic dressing also has a significant role in Black history – from Sunday church best to 1970s disco garb.
Unlike Trump and Melania – who looked to problematic Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana for her outgoing look – the incoming administration mostly opted for pieces by American designers from diverse backgrounds, following in the footsteps of Michelle Obama who used her time and platform as FLOTUS to champion rising design talent. Beyond America, Mrs. Prada made a big impact on the stage too. And when it comes to totally unintentional trendsetters, Bernie Sanders, in a familiar-looking dadcore coat and a pair of woolly mittens, shone bright.
Here, we’ve rounded up why yesterday’s inauguration was one for the fashion books.
The man of the hour wore a custom navy suit in a pretty classic cut made by the all-American designer Ralph Lauren with a matching face-mask and overcoat. His tie was a soft shade of cornflower blue, which was probably a nod to his wife Dr. Jill Biden’s brocade twinset. Designed by Markarian, a NYC label with a sustainable focus, her look stood out for its Bridgerton-esque pearl collar and rich velvet lapel. To say this duo was stylistically leaps and bounds ahead of the Florida-bound rejects would be an understatement, only highlighted by the questionable set of outfits on display upon their departure. It’s no mistake the following four years will be a sight for sore eyes.
A history-making woman deserves a history-making outfit, and she got it indeed. The incoming VP Kamala Harris followed up her crisp Pyer Moss coat with another piece of stunning outerwear, this time courtesy of American wunderkind Christopher John Rogers. The Black fashion designer, who already counts the likes of Beyoncé, Zendaya, and AOC as fans, transformed his flamboyant silhouettes in overly saturated hues into a royal purple swing coat with a dress in the same colour. New York jeweller Wilfredo Rosado was behind the latest version of what Harris calls her ‘power pearls’, which have consistently been part of her wardrobe for years. Unsurprisingly, matching leather gloves were another one of the trends for the day, serving health and safety chic. The second gentleman of the US Doug Emhoff went for an unassuming double-breasted grey herringbone coat, leaving the complete spotlight to his stylish wife.
You don’t ask Gaga to sing the national anthem without expecting a full on fashion show. Her last public performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2016 Super Bowl gave us a sparkly red Gucci suit à la Ziggy Stardust, but this time she went for something even grander. Custom-made by American designer Daniel Roseberry for French fashion house Schiaparelli, Gaga stunned in a fitted jacket in navy cashmere and a voluminous skirt in washed red silk faille. An oversized gilded brooch of a dove mid-flight was one of the visual statements made on the podium, clearly announcing that Harris and Biden are the peacemakers bringing a sense of harmony to the country. Always the one to embrace bold beauty looks, Gaga’s hair was braided into a milkmaid crown, adding a dash of cottagecore to the story.
Okay, this was a moment. 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the inaugural US Youth Poet Laureate, was asked to write and recite an original poem as part of yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony. While paying homage to her late hero Maya Angelou, who spoke at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, Gorman urged the nation to stay optimistic and open-minded. “When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it,” she proclaimed as the diamanté buttons of her yellow Prada double-breasted coat glistened in the sun. When she wasn’t speaking, Gorman wore a bedazzled red face-mask that matched her satin Prada headband – explaining later that she picked the brand because of Mrs. P’s intellect and feminist standpoint.
Bringing the white to Gaga’s red and blue, Jennifer Lopez gave a nod to the suffrage movement in a full Chanel look made out of a bouclé coat, frilly transparent blouse, and a sequined pair of high-waisted trousers. Accessories were on point with a coordinating beret as well as a classic Chanel pearl jewellery set that included a layered chain belt. Performing a mash-up of “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” – with an extra dash of “Let’s Get Loud” thrown in for good measure – J.Lo proved that she looks as good buttoned up as she does in her Internet-breaking Versace jungle dress.
If one outfit that summed up this new administration to a T, it would have to be Ella Emhoff’s. VP Kamala Harris’ step-daughter is currently living her best fashion life, serving look after look under the brand new spotlight currently shining on her. Having previously stunned in a Thom Browne outfit that made her look like a key member of the new Gossip Girl cast, this time around it was her jewel-encrusted houndstooth coat with a crisp shirt collar from Miu Miu’s AW20 collection that stole the show at the inauguration. Underneath, Emhoff donned a classic Batsheva ruffled dress in a deep shade of burgundy. While you might already recognise her from the time she went viral on TikTok in an androgynous pinstripe Frankie Shop suit, a quick whizz through Emhoff’s IG tells us this bonafide style star is a Parsons student who runs an eponymous crochet and knit label. It doesn’t get more 2021 than that.
As the person who completely changed the idea of what a First Lady dressed like, Michelle Obama is one of those historical style icons that will be remembered forever. And while her time in the White House ended back in 2016, Obama’s stylistic journey continued to evolve. For Biden and Harris’ inauguration, Obama chose a co-ord set designed by Black Los Angeles-based designer Sergio Hudson. Having previously worn Hudson’s work during the 2019 tour for her memoir Becoming, this look felt like a perfect next chapter in the presidential story. It wasn’t scene-stealing or outrageous – the knit turtleneck with a maxi coat made for a respectful, stylish outing that could single-handedly be responsible for the revival of thick waist belts. Kim K could never...
Another point for fun outerwear in bold shades of democratic blue came thanks to our impeachment queen, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She sashayed in a vibrant peacock Balenciaga-esque cocoon coat with a matching pair of pumps and a white dress underneath. Her floral face mask in similar shades took the award for best PPE of the day, while the chunky earrings made us think of legendary Dame Joan Collins in Dynasty.
In a look that birthed a thousand (more) memes, Bernie Sanders turned up to the inauguration in a look that screamed ‘I’m going to the post office’ – and naturally we love him all the more for it. Things got really meta, however, when it dawned on us that he seemed to be wearing the chestnut-hued Burton coat previously seen in the ‘I am once again asking...’ meme. Topping off an already seminal ensemble from this serial outfit repeater was a pair of mittens hand-knitted by Jen Ellis – a schoolteacher from Vermont who reworks old sweaters into new garments. If you ever need someone to sum up your quarantine mood during these cold times, let it be Bernie with his generic blue face-mask askew and a facial expression that says it all.
If there was any accessory that had the chance to top #BerniesGloves, it would have to be the mysterious pair of Dior x Air Jordan 1 hi-tops that were initially seen from the ankle down. As soon as they appeared on the screen, the kicks took Twitter by storm – who was the stylish mystery man with an attitude bad-ass enough to wear a pair of trainers to the inauguration? It didn’t take long for people to trace the kicks to Nikolas Ajagu, the partner of VP Kamala Harris’ niece Meena. The logoed trainers were first seen in Kim Jones’ Pre-Fall 2020 collection for the French house back in December 2019 and became an instant grail, following in the footsteps of his iconic Supreme x Louis Vuitton collab. The rest of Ajagu’s look was a classic suit & tie combo, proving that a strong shoe choice can really make an outfit iconic.