In the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,” Karen Smith famously said, “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” On Inauguration Day, which also fell on a Wednesday, many notable people dressed to impress. Something about Wednesdays just makes it a great day for fashion.
On Jan. 20, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the 46th President and Vice President, respectively, of the United States. While social media was quick to share posts congratulating the new leaders, the outfits at the ceremony were a hot topic of conversation.
“I’m a big fan of fashion and, while I knew that wasn’t the most important thing about the inauguration, I couldn’t help but notice it,” said Alise Boal, a third-year combined political science and communication studies major. “It’s been so long since we had an event like the Grammys, a movie premiere or some other event where fashion is a focus, so the inauguration felt like the Met Gala.”
Many of the womenswear looks of the day were dubbed fashion power moves.
“I was struck by the range of vibrant colors worn by the women who attended Biden’s inauguration,” said Shannon Foley, a fourth-year business marketing analytics major. “Bright, statement hues radiated confidence, independence and power.”
The standout trio of the ceremony was Harris, former first lady Michelle Obama and first lady Jill Biden. The three wore monochrome outfits of royal purple, plum and light blue, respectively.
“Monochrome is a good way to present oneself as being put together but not too over the top, so I think it was very appropriate,” said Randall Gee, a second-year graphic and information design major.
Biden’s and Harris’ family members also caught the eyes of many fashion lovers. Biden’s granddaughters Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy and Natalie also attended the ceremony in monochrome outfits and later in the night expressed their individuality in varying dress silhouettes.
“I really loved Natalie and Finnegan in the Markarian sequin corset dresses they wore to the Lincoln Memorial,” Boal said. “I’m a big fan of sequins and sparkles, and I love the fit of both of these dresses … They both just look elegant while still being fun.”
National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s yellow Prada coat, singer Lady Gaga’s Schiaparelli gown and singer Jennifer Lopez’s all-white Chanel ensemble piqued people’s visual interest. Both Gorman and Ella Emhoff, Harris’ stepdaughter, were signed to IMG Models, following their viral inauguration looks.
Discussing her favorite looks, “Obama wore a monochromatic look from LA-based designer Sergio Hudson, while Gorman wore head-to-toe Prada. I’m already a big fan of tailoring in fashion, but I absolutely love how both of their very tailored looks are relaxed and drape beautifully,” Foley said.
Despite these women rocking designer outfits, social media’s favorite look of the day was arguably none other than Sen. Bernie Sanders’ knitted mittens and winter coat. In the hours and week following the ceremony, memes of the senator photoshopped into a seemingly infinite number of random photos flooded Twitter timelines and Instagram stories. His campaign store even made merchandise with the viral photo to raise money for Meals on Wheels.
In general, though, it seemed like some people on social media were more invested in the clothing being worn at the event rather than the actual significance of it with people tweeting and reposting photos of their favorite looks.
“Sometimes I wonder if talking about fashion during these types of events are a distraction from what’s really going on,” Gee said. “I don’t think politics should be glamorous, and I actually think most of the political attendees did a good job not being too flashy, as I think it’d be tone-deaf and inappropriate.”
When it comes to the intersection of fashion and politics, some students noted that there are layers to the discussion that should not be overlooked, despite the light conversational tone of people adoring the politicians’ looks.
“I, unfortunately, do also think part of [the conversation] is due to the unfair scrutiny that women in politics or near politics face – a pressure to look fashionable and presentable while still being approachable and non-threatening,” Boal said. “We see this a lot when women are running against men for office. It matters what they wear, that their hair is perfectly in place or that they have the right makeup on, etc.”
The inauguration marked a significant event in American history, especially since it was a major transition of power in an unsettling time. Whether fashion became a topic of conversation because people were impressed or because critics were content deprived, there is no question that the event’s fashion will be something people remember.
“I do think that this will be a memorable moment in American fashion history,” Foley said. “Rather than be remembered as just a moment though, I think it set the ball rolling for a shift in how American politicians use fashion to speak to the country.”