On Saturday night, after making history as the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to be elected vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris took the stage (to the beat of Mary Blige’s “Work That”) at the Chase Center in Wilmington, DE, to give her acceptance speech. For the occasion, Harris wore head-to-toe white: a pussy-bow blouse underneath a suit by New York-based label Carolina Herrera. A pair of pearl earrings, a longtime accessory of choice for Harris, completed the look. In her speech, Harris praised the US President-elect Joe Biden for his “audacity” in choosing her as his running mate. “But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she said.
Harris’s words on Saturday night were powerful, as was the outfit she chose to wear to celebrate her historic win. Every piece was intentional, from the colour choice, which has deep significance in politics, to the brand behind the look. Ahead, we break it down.
The Color White
Dating back to the suffrage movement, women have long worn white as a symbolic way of resisting gender inequality. In March 1913, more than 8,000 women wore white to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, to demand a constitutional amendment allowing them the right to vote. Since then a number of women in politics have donned the colour for significant occasions. Shirley Chisholm wore white when she became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. Geraldine Ferraro wore white when she accepted her nomination as the first female vice presidential candidate in 1984. Hillary Clinton wore the colour on a number of occasions throughout her run for president in 2016, as did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she was sworn in as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in 2019. More recently, AOC wore white on the cover of Vanity Fair.
During her speech, Harris talked about her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who always believed “so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,” she said. “I am thinking about her, and about the generations of women — Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women — who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all.”
Harris continued, “All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century, 100 years ago with the 19th amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act, and now, in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued their fight for the fundamental right to vote and be heard.” With that in mind, it makes sense that Harris traded her wardrobe typically made of navy and black for white to honour those who came before her. To make this moment even more special, Harris’s two grandnieces, the daughters of Meena Harris, the founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, followed suit, stepping on stage in white lace dresses. “VICE PRESIDENT AUNTIE,” Meena captioned a photo of Harris alongside her daughters.
The Pussy-Bow Blouse
While the pussy-bow blouse in politics was long associated with the first British woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, that changed in 2016 when Melania Trump wore the top to a presidential debate. It was an interesting choice given that the event took place just days after the Access Hollywood tape was released that caught then-presidential candidate Donald Trump talking about grabbing women by the genitals. According to Vanity Fair, Sopan Deb of CBS News tweeted that the look was “not intentional,” but to this day, many speculate why Melania would choose the style so closely related to her husband's use of the word. On Saturday, in the eyes of many, Harris “reclaimed” the fashion item.
The Pearl Jewelry
Pearls have long since been a fashion staple in politics, going from First Lady accessory to, more recently, a common sight on women ranging from Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton to AOC. Pearls have an even bigger significance for Harris. A member of Howard University’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Harris has been wearing pearls since her college days. “The symbolism for the AKA sorority is pearls, which each pearl represents the original founding and incorporated members who started the sorority in 1908,” Darnell-Jamal Lisby, a fashion historian, told Refinery29 last month. “Pearls are symbolic of her celebration of her heritage and the sisterhood of the AKA and other Black Greek organisations.” During this election alone, Harris wore a number of different jewellery styles that included pearls, from traditional strands (which she paired with her go-to Timberland boots) to more trendy iterations like this Irene Neuwirth necklace that she chose for the Democratic National Convention. On Saturday, it wasn’t a necklace that bore her signature pearls, but rather vintage-inspired pearl earrings.
The Suit Designer
To celebrate being named the first woman vice president in American history, Harris chose to wear a garment by woman-founded, American-based label Carolina Herrera. In the nearly 40 years since the Venezuelan-American designer behind the label launched her namesake brand, Herrera has dressed many First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. (It should be noted that Harris’ look was designed by Wes Gordon, who took over as creative director from Herrera in 2018.)