US Inauguration 2021: Politics and fashion on display

In light of President’s Day yesterday, 15 February, a look back at the inauguration of Joe Biden and the dawn of a new presidency is surely fitting. The ceremony last month saw the start of a hopeful administration led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, leaving the era of Trump in the rear-view mirror. 

With almost 34 million people watching the inauguration ceremony, there was certainly an opportunity for key figures to make a statement, both politically and aesthetically. 

The President himself as well as Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, wore Ralph Lauren for the ceremony. A label not unfamiliar to those about to take up residency in the White House, such as George Bush and Barack Obama, as well as former first ladies, the choice made by both Biden and Emhoff is not only visually poignant (both blazer coats looked sharp), but also signposted the direction of the future administration. Choosing a designer that has dressed figures from both sides of the American political spectrum signals a presidency that seeks to spearhead unity in its leadership for the future.

The unity evoked in Joe Biden’s choice of toned-down blues at the ceremony were further emphasised by Dr Jill Biden’s decision to also adorn herself in blue, though in a much more vibrant turquoise shade. The coat-dress-mask combination she chose from up-and-coming label Markarian (who also designed her evening gown) contrasts the big label choice made by Mr. Biden, perhaps demonstrating the Bidens’ support for all-American businesses – the start of a trend that will hopefully continue to be espoused throughout their time in the White House. Alexandra O’Neill, the designer behind the brand, proudly states that her pieces are ‘designed and produced in New York City, [with] a strong belief in supporting the fine craftsmanship that the New York Garment Centre offers’.

Continuing the monochrome theme that dominated the Capitol on inauguration day, Kamala Harris’ deep purple ensemble from Black American designer Christopher John Rogers, gave a nod to the suffragette movement, as well as the recurring theme of unity; with purple being a combination of red and blue, Harris boldly declares the path of inclusivity and harmony that this administration has chosen to take. 

To fail to mention the fashion statements made by the younger family members of the new President and Vice President would be a mistake. Natalie Biden’s bubblegum pink ensemble went viral online, and Ashley Biden’s tuxedo for the inaugural concert? A personal favourite. Whilst there is no great political statement here, Ashley’s formal yet undone look is a fashion statement in its own right. 

Ella Emhoff, the Vice President’s stepdaughter, and poet and activist Amanda Gorman also deserve special mention. Emhoff’s Miu Miu Coat, which featured a Ruth Bader Ginsberg-esque collar, no doubt a purposeful choice, landed her significant attention and a subsequent signing to IMG Models agency. With her newfound publicity, Emhoff has used her platform for good and set up a knit-trouser (made by Emhoff herself) charity raffle via Instagram. The non-profits she has chosen to spotlight – the Okra Project and For the Gworls – both work to support the Black trans community. 

Ella Emhoff at the 2021 Inauguration Ceremony. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty

Amanda Gorman also landed an IMG contract, joining the likes of the Hadid sisters, after her appearance reading her moving original work “The Hill We Climb”. Aside from the soft, but bright yellow Prada coat Gorman wore, her red headband is now iconic. She said of the headband “I highly suggest a headband crown for anyone wanting to stand taller, straighter, and prouder.” Her jewellery on the day also made a deeper statement: the birdcage ring she wore was a proud reference to Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, who herself spoke at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

Amanda Gorman at the 2021 Inauguration Ceremony.
Credit: Erin Schaff via The Boston Globe

Evidently, it is not just the role of the President and the Vice President to make political statements visually. The people they are surrounded by have followed suit (pun intended) and have each communicated their own vision for what they hope the next four years of American politics will look like. After years of division and resentment from both sides, a more purple America could be on its way. 

Header image: Getty Images