Kamala Harris was sworn in as the nation’s first female vice president, the first African-American vice president, and the first South Asian vice president as Joe Biden crossed the 270 electoral college vote threshold.
According to The Telegraph, Harris’ “swishy, low-maintenance hair” and “relaxed approach to make-up” were highlighted in a beauty feature during the celebrations. Sonia Haria, the magazine’s beauty editor, published it under the title’s beauty vertical as a focused feature. Twitter users weren’t amused and took to the site to call out the sexist and moronic nature of the ad with the hashtag #everydaysexism. As a politician, she isn’t a model. As the Green Party Women noted, “This matters.”
No one should reduce women to what they wear or put on their faces, but pretending that beauty and fashion have no place in politics is as limiting and out of touch as asking “should feminists wear pink?” Colours, hairstyles, and silhouettes have all been used as semiotics throughout history as a way to communicate beauty, fashion, and politics.
Lally MacBeth, a fashion historian, believes that the French Revolution in 1789 was one of the earliest examples of fashion using political signifiers. The red, white, and blue striped cockades that denoted a revolutionary were adopted by supporters of the liberation and democracy movements. Anyone who didn’t wear these Tricolore ribbons was considered a target for the guillotine.”
“The Suffragettes were another political movement that used clothing as a political marker,” Macbeth continues. By using the colours purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope, co-editor Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, of Votes for Women, created one of the most instantly recognisable political symbols of the early twentieth century.
A Carolina Herrera suit and pussy-bow blouse worn by Kamala Harris for her victory speech echoed Hillary Clinton’s Ralph Lauren look when she accepted her nomination for president of the United States in 2016. The impact was immediate. Within 24 hours of Harris’ speech, Lyst reports that searches for white pantsuits increased by 129 percent and searches for pussybow blouses increased by 95 percent.
Beauty and fashion have a role to play in politics, but the question of should feminists wear pink?’ is as outdated and reductive as asking should feminists wear pink?'”
The Democratic Party’s female members are known for their affinity for white suits. “I wore all-white today to honour the women who paved the path before me and for all the women yet to come,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in January 2019. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the mothers of the movement, from the suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm.” When Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress, she wore all-white, and Ocasio-Cortez reprised the look for her Vanity Fair cover in November 2020.
Fashion and beauty play an important role in politics, according to the representative. After being photographed on Capitol Hill with progressive fashion label Telfar’s signature tote bag, she took to Instagram to promote Telfar’s progressive message and shared her beauty routine, including the significance of her signature red lip, for a Vogue beauty tutorial. Beauty and fashion aren’t “frivolous” interests, she tells viewers as she shows them how she maintains her youthful appearance despite her hectic schedule. The decisions we make every morning, however, are some of the most important, in my opinion.
Cori Bush, a newly elected congresswoman, recently tweeted about her struggle to afford the kind of business attire she needs to be taken seriously on the Hill. “Just being a woman is quite politicised here in Washington,” she continues. She may not be better at her job, but her colleagues may think she is because of the new thrift outfits she has recently purchased.
The fashion psychologist Dr. Dion Terrelonge says that our brains are full of “little shortcuts – or biases if you will” that help us make sense of the world. Among the many environmental cues used by these biases is the appearance of a person. We can infer from biological psychology that humans are social animals who seek out and identify with those who are similar to ourselves. Clothes serve as one of the quickest and simplest means of exchanging messages.
As Terrelonge points out, being a politician is a difficult job, one that requires constant scrutiny and high stakes. When it comes to boosting your self-confidence and creating a sense of preparedness, a simple grooming routine and a dash of your favourite lipstick can do wonders.”
“There’s this really false notion that beauty and fashion interests are somehow frivolous if you care about make-up. However, I believe these are some of the most important decisions that we make, and we make them every day” ” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York
It is also possible to use a well-planned grooming routine as a form of self-defence in the face of scepticism or preconceptions. President-elect Joe Biden, at the age of 78, is the oldest president-elect in history, and Trump has frequently attacked him because of it. It has been speculated that Biden has had multiple hair transplants in an effort to shed his “old man” persona. Biden’s hair is now noticeably fuller than it was in the 1980s. In addition to his white teeth, pearly whites and rumoured facelift, his well-fitting suits and aviators give him an air of freshness and youth.
Democrats aren’t the only ones who use fashion and beauty as a means of getting their message across. Designed by Ralph Lauren, Melania Trump’s inaugural look was a clear homage to Jackie Kennedy’s trademark cool blue suit. However, even though she served as First Lady to a Democratic president, the Republican party embraced Jackie Kennedy as its standard-bearer for a conservative woman’s attire—a nod to the party’s emphasis on traditional family values and the era of men being men, women being women.’
Then there was her Zara military jacket with the slogan, “I really don’t care, do u?” which she wore to a detention facility for migrant children. According to her, she wrote it “to defend me against the people and the left-wing media who are slamming me.”
But even though it appears that American politics are more glamorous and dramatic, this isn’t solely a problem that affects the US. This year’s Brexit speech was given by Theresa May in a Vivienne Westwood checkered suit, which could be seen as a nod to British heritage and industry. To further cement his leftist credentials, Jeremy Corbyn’s baker boy hat was branded “Leninist” by the Daily Mail, while Terrelonge explains that people’s “person perception, the way we judge and characterise others based on their appearance; a cognitive mechanism we use to quickly make sense of situations and categorise, sometimes inaccurately” prompted such a negative reaction.
British politics is infused with the importance of fashion choices. To appeal to working-class voters, Labour MP Susan Lawrence wore her trademark monocle with low-cost dresses, while Labour MP Barbara Castle wore bouffant hair, red lipstick, and a bold skirt suit because “Plums don’t fall into plain girls’ laps.” Although she didn’t take her seat in the House of Representatives as the first woman elected, Constance Markievicz famously said, “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots; leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver,” her approach to fashion as rebellious as her politics and activism.
Similarly, men’s clothing isn’t exempt from scrutiny. To put it another way: Alexander Fury described Nigel Farage’s style in 2014 as being “redolent of a mythologised past… a calculated harking-back to old-fashioned standards, integrity, post-war patriotism and buoyed up nationalism.” Fury concluded by saying, “Clothes do not make the man for him, but the fraud.”
Some may wish to pretend that the serious world does not recognise the value of style and beauty. Be that as it may, they’re an important part of politics, and savvy politicians use them as a powerful means of communication just like spin, scandal, and stirring speeches.