The historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20th saw some of the most influential women in the United States dressing symbolically for the occasion. Vice President Harris, former First Lady Michelle Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton all donned different shades of purple, making a sartorial statement on America coming together and uniting both sides of the aisle.
For the record: Harris, who is the first Black woman to serve as Vice President, as well as the first person of Asian descent, chose to wear a double-breasted royal purple coat created by Brooklyn-based designer Christopher John Rogers over a matching dress. Obama wore a Sergio Hudson purple pantsuit with a statement gold belt, while Hillary Clinton wore a purple Ralph Lauren pantsuit.
Here’s an explanation of why wearing the colour purple is so significant.
The colour purple has long represented bipartisanship: the literal mix of red, for the Republican party, and blue, for the Democratic party. Swing states are also sometimes referred to as purple states because their electoral status comprises near-equal numbers of red and blue voters.
Second, purple is a colour of the suffragette movement, the decades-long fight to win the right to vote for women in the United States. The organization described the meaning of the colour purple in a newsletter published December 6, 1913: “Purple is the colour of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.” White is another colour of the suffragette movement. In the same newsletter it was described as “the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose.” Harris chose to wear white back in November 2020 to deliver her victory speech after the election was officially called for Biden-Harris, so it feels apt that she wore another suffragette colour on this occasion.
Clinton also wore the colour purple when she delivered her memorable concession speech after losing the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, even wore a purple tie that morning.
The colour purple also has an extra meaning for Harris, who reportedly used it as a nod to Shirley Chisholm, who became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968 and later ran for president in 1972 under the Democratic party. Chisholm’s boundary-breaking trajectory in politics “inspired” Harris’ career and Harris has often used the colour purple as a tribute in her campaign fliers.
A historic day
The symbolic sartorial message of unity and togetherness was also a key theme in Biden’s inaugural address after he was formally sworn in as the 46th President at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
“We must meet this moment as the United States of America,” Biden said. “So today, at this time in this place, let’s start afresh, all of us. Let’s begin to listen to one other again, hear one another, see one another.”
He continued, “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.”