Kamala Harris has two modes: The hardass District Attorney or the hardass auntie. When she’s in DA mode, Kamala can be ruthless and no-nonsense, cutting down horserace veterans like Joe Biden with the ease of a lumberjack: in auntie mode, she’s sardonic and warm, quick to crack a cutting joke about herself, or slide into a laugh.
For auntie mode, Kamala Harris prefers Converse.
Since well before her Presidential run, Kamala has only worn two types of shoes: the kind of serviceable pointed pumps that every other female politician wears, or Converse sneakers, a shoe that has spent plenty of time inside the White House on First Ladies, but which no other prominent American politician wears on the job. Former Presidents have only occasionally worn running shoes to gawkily do sports in, and current Presidential hopefuls who’ve made their love of business-casual part of their image, like the folksy Beto O Rourke or the tie-less Andrew Yang, have stopped short at suede lace-ups.
But in the past four months, Kamala has worn Converse to speak at the SF Pride Parade, at an Everytown For Gun Safety Forum in Iowa, and at a Labor Day rally in Los Angeles. She’s worn them for the majority of her bus tour across Iowa to promote her ‘3AM Agenda’ of policies and plans that address the issues that keep families up at night (the official video of the tour could nearly serve as an ad for the sneaker brand). She’s worn cream All Stars with a sequined denim jacket, platform Converse with skinny jeans and a blouse, and scuffed-up white Chucks with a blazer and peg-leg trousers. According to an interview she gave to The Cut in 2018, she has Converse for every occasion: “The kind I wear in hot weather, the kind I wear in cold weather, and the platform kind for when I’m wearing a pantsuit.” Washing Post reporter Erica Warner tweeted that Kamala even tried wearing Converse into the congressional chamber, which has a strict dress code (she was told she had to enter through the cloakroom instead).
Founded in 1908 in Massachusetts, Converse is one of the oldest sneaker brands in the world — and like nearly all sneaker brands, they were invented and popularised in America (the brand was sold to Nike in 2013). Unlike Adidas or Nike, Converse are grounded in a single style that’s not too modern (read: “How do you do, fellow kids?) nor too vintage (read: “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break.”). Unlike Keds, Converse are culturally unisex. They are neither very cool nor very lame, inaccessibly luxurious nor irresponsibly cheap. These are shoes that have been relevant for decades, appreciated for its practicality and universality. They are also uncontroversial. These are not shoes that exclusively belong to a subculture, community, region, or place. Your kid brother, grandma, and Insta-famous ex-roommate might all wear Converse. If the everyperson was a shoe, it’d be a pair of Converse.
If you believe that clothes say something about its wearer (or at least her ambitions), the fact that Kamala Harris picked Converse is a no-brainer. Harris’ Democratic primary campaign has pushed her practicality and incremental changes over ideological transformations, setting her apart from more progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. As a black and Indian woman who has made her own identity central to her campaign, Harris also has a reputation as an aggressive District Attorney that sought convictions for low-level crimes like public school truancy and marijuana use that disproportionately affected poor people of colour. In an era of progressive politics, Harris’ big challenges have been to gain the trust of those wary of her centrism and prosecutor background. If she wins the primary, she’ll likely experience a different kind of headwind as a woman of colour.
Between the mishmash of demographics she needs to win over, and her pragmatist’s approach to policy in a party that’s courting revolution, Harris needs to find a way to be universally winsome.
For that role, Converse sneakers have historically worked. Just take a look at how First Ladies have chosen to don that persona in Converse. Michelle Obama was reportedly a fan of limited-edition pairs, including a black snakeskin John Varvatos collaboration she wore during the 2016 Easter Egg roll. After Melania Trump was lambasted for wearing designer stilettos to board a flight to attend a briefing on Hurricane Harvey’s destruction of Houston, she purposefully wore brand-new, pure-white $65 Jack Purcells.
Last month at a rally in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Kamala addressed a rapt audience wearing a grey blazer over a white T-shirt and jeans, cream Converse on her feet: “Let’s have a problem-solving President. Let’s deal with the issues that are challenging us. Let’s write the next chapter about the America we believe in.”
The words came out straightforward and simply. Her Converse were the final punctuation.