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Inauguration Day fashion: Explained


It is without a doubt that the inauguration of 46th President Joseph R. Biden was a historic day, but what drew the international attention of onlookers was the fashion of the day – and the statements they held. From President Biden and first lady Jill Biden to Vice President Kamala Harris to Lady Gaga, the meaning behind what everyone wore took center stage. 

President Joe Biden 

In true American fashion, President Joe Biden arrived at the Capitol building for the inauguration ceremony wearing a navy-blue suit designed by Ralph Lauren – a fashion house that has represented the American dream since its launch in the 1960s. Lauren, who served in the U.S. Army for two years, was born in the Bronx to parents of Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Since then, the label has grown into one of the largest fashion corporations to date with over a billion dollars’ worth of revenue. Lauren has dressed political figures throughout the last 54 years in business, from Nancy Reagan to George W. Bush to Michelle Obama and on.  

President Biden’s hopeful inaugural address aligned perfectly with the story behind his outfit for the occasion, saying, “Together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness. May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us and the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history.” 

Vice President Kamala Harris 

With each of her outfits throughout Inauguration Day, Vice President Kamala Harris made a statement. Donning a camel-colored coat by designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss to the morning’s memorial service for the lives lost to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Harris represented the message that Jean-Raymond has long been sending on the runway. His collection, “American, Also,” addressed the erasure of Black narratives in popular culture according to Vogue. The purpose-driven designer also made headlines in September of 2020 for his efforts to gather personal protective equipment (PPE) and gave $50,000 in grants for small businesses affected by COVID-19. 

Later in the day, Vice President Harris arrived at the inauguration ceremony in her signature pearls and a head-to-toe purple monochrome number – a dress and coat designed by Black designer Christopher John Rogers. The look is thought to be a not-so-subtle nod to suffragist organization National Women’s Party. In a 1913 newsletter, they wrote “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.”  

In addition to its representation of women’s rights, the color purple may have also been an acknowledgment of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress in 1968 and the first Black woman to run for president in 1972.  

Following the inauguration ceremony, Vice President Harris wore a black sequin dress and tuxedo coat designed by Sergio Hudson to the “Celebrating America” event held at the Lincoln Memorial. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Hudson explained, “We kept the silhouette very structured and tailored, because that’s who the Vice President is.” He continued on to say, “But the liquid sequins give her glamour and shine, because her influence and the way she’s broken barriers is a light for so many of us. She shines so we can all shine.” 

In the same interview, Hudson said he hasn’t “seen an African American designer who’s built a legacy brand,” and that he’s “not ashamed to say that’s who I want to be. That’s what I’m aiming to do.” 

As Vice President Harris is the first woman and first Black and South-Asian American to serve in this role, she championed Black designers in every outfit on a day that will go down in history. 

First lady Dr. Jill Biden 

First lady Dr. Jill Biden, similarly to Vice President Harris, was poised and manifested historical moments through her attire. At the COVID-19 memorial service in the morning, the first lady wore a purple coat and dress designed by Jonathan Cohen, a “new generation of American designers who is championing sustainability and responsible design,” according to Vogue. The sustainable designer falls in line with President Biden’s plans for a more sustainable United States. The dress and mask worn by Biden were made from scraps of fabric from Cohen’s studio. The deep purple color reminisced on the Suffragettes, but “more poignantly it’s what you get when red and blue are mixed together.” 

At the inauguration ceremony, Dr. Biden wore an aqua blue monochrome outfit with a matching mask designed by American designer Markarian, headed by Alexandra O’Neill. In a statement Markarian said, “The color blue was chosen for the pieces to signify trust, confidence, and stability.” Like Cohen, Markarian prides itself on its sustainable efforts in the world of fashion. According to Vanity Fair, each piece of Markarian clothing is made-to-order in order to reduce waste.  

In the evening at the “Celebrating America” event at the Lincoln Memorial, the first lady emerged in an all-white coat and dress, each delicately embroidered with the federal flowers from every state. Uruguayan sustainable designer and friend of Dr. Biden Gabriela Hearst said in an interview with Elle that the inspiration was unity and the “blooming symbol to represent this message are the federal flowers from every state and territory of the United States of America.” She explained that the “Delaware flower is positioned at the heart level of The First Lady, from there, all the other flowers branch out.”  

In addition to the message of unity, Hearst told Elle that she made sure to include something close to the first lady – her passion for teaching. “Inside of the coat, representing the lifelong calling and service of Dr. Biden as an educator is a hand embroidery on the lining with a quote from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’” 

Since the inauguration, Dr. Biden has said that she will continue to teach while balancing her duties as the first lady of the United States. She will be the first first lady to continue her career while serving in the White House. 

Former first lady Michelle Obama and Former Secretary of State & first lady Hillary Clinton 

Former first lady Michella Obama made a striking appearance alongside former President Barack Obama at the inauguration ceremony in an outfit designed by Sergio Hudson. Similar to Vice President Harris, Obama’s ceremonial attire consisted of a monochrome purple – except in a deep shade of maroon. Obama is familiar with Hudson’s work, having worn his designs many times in the past. The former first lady is known for her tradition of wearing clothing by emerging, young Black designers and Hudson is no exception.  

Former Secretary of State and former first lady Hillary Clinton also wore all purple, a similar shade to that of Vice President Harris. Clinton’s outfit was designed by Ralph Lauren. The various shades of purple worn to the ceremony echoed a call for unity and reflected on women’s suffrage. 

Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman 

22-year-old Amanda Gorman made history at the inauguration ceremony as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Her red headband and bright yellow coat by Prada – which she said in an interview with Vogue was a nod to Jill Biden previously praising her for wearing yellow on a separate occasion – caught the eyes of many, but it was her jewelry that stood out the most. Her ring, by the brand Of Rare Origin, was a birdcage that was believed to have paid homage to Poet Laureate and civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” This ring was a gift to Gorman from Oprah Winfrey, who also sent Angelou gifts to wear for her address at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. 

Lady Gaga & Jennifer Lopez 

The female singers of the inauguration ceremony, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, also had outfits that made statements. Lady Gaga, who was invited to kick off the ceremony with her rendition of the National Anthem, wore a Schiaparelli Haute Couture gown paired with a large golden dove brooch. The star took to Twitter on the day of the event, sharing a photo of “a dove carrying an olive branch. May we all make peace with each other.” She also sent out a tweet prior to singing, stating that her “intention is to acknowledge our past, be healing for our present, and passionate for our future where we work together lovingly.” 

Lopez wore a Chanel all-white outfit – the signature color associated with the Women’s Suffrage movement. Singing “This Land is Your Land” at the Inauguration, her outfit paralleled the stand taken by many congresswomen during Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, a message of solidarity.  

The fashion moments that took place on Inauguration Day are only a first look at what is to come over the course of the next four years.  

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

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