It is time for us to do what we have been doing, and that time is every day. -Kamala Harris
In January 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris took office, becoming the first Female Vice President in the history of the United States. This idea has made us think of all the things that have remained the same for a very long time and that are now changing. We look back at political figures throughout history, and we see how the quality of the portraits has changed, and the clothes that they wear in these portraits have evolved with presidencies and time.
In 2021 we saw for the first time a female Vice President representing our country in major events regarding international agreements, foreign policies, and social affairs. Then there's also the fact that she is the first woman of color to have such an important role in American politics. This is also the first time we have a Second Gentleman. Douglas Emhoff, Kamala Harris's husband, is a lawyer with over 30 years of experience.
So it is exciting in Political Fashion to think about Kamala Harris as a political figure who is redefining the roles not only in politics but in the way we perceive and understand fashion. Here are some key lessons that we can learn from Vice President Kamala Harris.
Lesson 1: Choose clothes that are flattering
The tailoring in Kamala Harris outfits is always on point, which makes a huge impact in the way she presents herself to the American people. Image Courtesy of TIME.
It may seem as if the clothing options for politicians are very limited. After all, there are several expectations that you have to meet. You have to look professional. You have to seem approachable when you are campaigning and talking to people from your community. But at the same time, you must look confident when talking to other relevant political figures, and you need to defend your ideas.
However, even when you have to fulfill these ideas, you still need to consider what is flattering to you. After all, how would you perceive a politician with a baggy blazer or with shoes that are as big as a clown's shoes? Hollywood stylist Karla Welch has worked very closely with Vice President Harris to choose her clothes thoughtfully.
It may seem as if Kamala Harris outfits are not really a "fashion statement" or fashion-forward, but still, there is a lot of thought behind them. How do you even start brainstorming about clothing ideas when there has never been a woman before you in this position of power? The expectations are high; the pressure is overwhelming, so the clothing is perfectly tailored and curated as if it was an art gallery opening.
Lesson 2: Choose Your Jewelry Wisely
When you are one of the most powerful people in the country, everything you are, do, and wear communicates a message. Jewelry can play a key role in the way a politician is perceived. Do you remember when former First Lady Melania Trump was deeply criticized for wearing a 3 million dollar ring for her official portrait as First Lady? There's a reason why former president Bill Clinton didn't wear Rolex watches during the time he was in the White House and was seen wearing them months after he ended his presidency.
For Vice President Kamala Harris, her jewelry selection is safe and tasteful. Most of the time, we see Harris wearing pearl jewelry. Pearl jewelry is a good mid-point between cheap plastic jewelry and ostentatious diamond pieces. The price of pearls can be between $100 USD and $20,000USD depending on many factors, including size, shape, quality, and finish of the overall jewelry piece. The truth is that cheap plastic jewelry would not give a satisfactory impression to the Vice President of the United States. On the other hand, we've heard many times about the scandals of politicians wearing luxury goods worth thousands of dollars while delivering a hypocritical message of caring for the working class.
Pearls have had multiple meanings across countries and periods. For the Royal Family, pearls tend to be considered "mourning jewelry" ever since the times of Queen Victoria. There's also a spiritual belief that aligns with the idea that there is wisdom obtained through experience.
Let's remember that Harris started her vice presidency at a time when the United States had over 100,000 COVID-19 cases every day and a +6% unemployment rate. The anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration of people around the country were real. So isn't it fascinating that according to the meaning that these gems have according to the Royal Family and to these beliefs, both make sense given the time when Kamala Harris started her vice presidency?
The expectations were big, and the importance of delivering a message of certainty and confidence was critical.
Lesson 3: The Makeup Is As Important as the Rest of the Look
The sexist accusations against women in politics aren't going away anytime soon. Women in politics are constantly accused of their appearance, sometimes even more than about their values, proposals, and accomplishments. If they wear little to no makeup, they are accused of being "too masculine." If they wear a lot of makeup, then the judgments are about vanity and not caring enough about their job. And as much as we would like to believe that people's opinions shouldn't influence who we are and what we wear, in politics, the opinion of the voter is what determines your whole career.
It's no surprise that Harris's advisors have taken the makeup task very seriously, to the point of booking makeup artist Sam Fine, who has worked for Beyonce and Michelle Obama. As natural and casual as the makeup looks that Vice president Harris has used during her time in office, the thought and balance to be appropriate, professional, and appealing without being overloaded are very important.
Lesson 4: The Signature Look Communicates Stability and Authority
You've probably encountered a store where the pants fit you perfectly. The placement of the seams, the fabric, the size, and the overall construction of the garment make you feel so comfortable with your body covered with this piece of clothing. When this happens, you will likely return to that store and buy several iterations of the same pants. Maybe there's a different fabric, color, and pocket placement, but still, the essence of the characteristics of this item that make you feel comfortable are there.
It makes sense to leverage the pieces of clothing that suit you well and take the best out of them. You already did the hard work of finding something that you like, and that looks good on you.
Many relevant figures have adopted a signature look that suits them well and use it as some sort of uniform. Steve Jobs used jeans and black sweaters for over a decade. Queen Elizabeth wore skirt suits in so many different colors that were carefully selected and still made her look spectacular.
For Vice President Kamala Harris, this signature look is the tailored suit. The tailored suit is the perfect balance between fashion and professionalism. It can be easily accessorized with different kinds of jewelry, footwear, accessories, and colors to be appropriate to the occasion. Kamala Harris outfits are almost like a uniform because again, if her clothes start to look very creative, with prints and whimsical designs, the media might suggest that her focus is on looking "pretty" instead of doing her job.
Lesson 5: The Real Reason Why Political Fashion Matters
It may seem like an exaggeration to hire professionals to carefully select the makeup, clothes, and jewelry for the Vice President of the United States. After all, isn't the job focused on actions and words without a need to care about the visual aspect of these figures?
The truth is that even though men in politics also have advisors and consultants that work on the looks, clothes, and visual aspects of the political figure, when you are the first one in a certain role, you have to work even harder.
How could she tell the voters that she could be a female vice president if they hadn't seen one before? How did Obama tell the country that he could be President regardless of the color of his skin, if in the history of this country all the presidents before him had been white?
Words can be powerful and meaningful for voters, but the message becomes even more powerful if they like the picture they are looking at. We judge books by their covers; we buy phones based on colors and optics, and according to the famous saying, love enters a man through his eyes.
So it makes perfect sense to have a team of professionals with you if you have access to them.
It makes sense that you feel insecure about the way clothes look on you, especially if you are a minority. Because you know that many people out there already have assumptions about who you are, based on your sex, gender, race, or body type, and you have to tell them that you are so much more than this characteristic about you that people love to point out.
And that would be another fashion lesson that Kamala Harris has taught us in Political Fashion, in the words of the Vice President of the United States:
Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way others may not, simply because they have never seen it before".