Update: The below was published in advance of Tuesday's SOTU address, where Nancy Pelosi, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and over 100 other congresswomen, dressed in all-white, made news.
The drama leading up to this year's State of The Union address has superseded a lot of what needs to be discussed — like healthcare, national security, equal pay, foreign affairs, and immigration. Though the unpredictable President Trump is expected to stick to script, it will be hard to ignore the sea of white suits that will take up most of the Capitol as more than 100 members of the Democratic Women's Working Group salute the women's suffrage movement.
That's right: It's not just Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this time — so many Congress members will be wearing white, it would be odd if they didn't.
The group, led by Rep. Lois Frankel (D) of Florida, follows in the footsteps of female leaders before them who wore white as a nod to the early 20th century suffragettes, including Geraldine Ferraro, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, and others. The term "suffragette," first used in 1906 as a term of derision, was assigned to any activist who fought for a woman's right to vote in public elections. And it's why the color white, in a political setting, sends such a powerful message. Frankel spoke exclusively to Refinery29 on why House Democrats are carrying the tradition beyond #WearWhiteToVote.
"During the past two speeches by Trump, we wore white the first year and black the second year (in solidarity with the MeToo movement). I don't want to say it was a protest as much as it was a message of We're not going back. Now that we're the majority, we feel like women put us there: they organized, they voted for us, they marched, and so forth," Frankel explained. "When the president looks out at us, we wanted him to see a wave of white that really represents our message — not just to him, but to the nation and the world — that we're here as part of the Democrats [and] The People's Agenda; that we must promote policies that will allow girls and women to fulfill their full potential."
Though the symbolism of the color can be extended to women's rights across the board, i.e. gender equality, Tuesday's fashion memo is concentrated on a few key factors that Democrats are looking for Trump to address: economic security for women and their families, supporting legislation like pay equity, paid family leave, affordable childcare, making sure women have access to healthcare, and closing the gaps between women and men. So, will Trump get it? Frankel isn't holding her breath.
"No. But the message is not for him, because for a lot of us, [we've had] enough [of] talking about him. He'll be talking about himself. But you [do] have millions of people watching, so we just want to send our message out, especially [to] all the women and men who elected us in the hopes that we would raise wages for people. Getting equality in the workplace is so important." Frankel adds that they invited Republican women to join them, but she isn't sure if any of them will. "We sent an email out with the same message. It's not an anti-Trump message: it's a message about promoting economic security for women and their families. Our pioneers fought for our rights — whether it was the right to vote or the equal rights amendment — and it's 2019 and there's still this huge wage gap."
Frankel's aware, too, that we tend to focus on what women are wearing when it comes to politics and fashion, and don’t give men the same kind of sartorial scrutiny. Though it helps that the incoming class also happens to be its most fashionable (and diverse), it remains to be seen if a group of congressmen will show up for women in the way that women do, i.e. white suits, white blazers, or otherwise. Frankel, however, remains confident. "Some of the men will be wearing white shirts — that's an easy ask — and they will be given white ribbons so they can be in solidarity with us. Last time we did this, one man did come in his [white] dinner jacket. We don't know if that'll happen [again] but there will be many men who will be in solidarity one way or another — be it a ribbon or a white shirt."
Either way, it will be a night of many firsts: this many women in Congress, this much diversity, and this many women in white (and men donning white ribbons) to send a very clear message. It's proof that a color can be more than a trend, more than a fashion statement — that fashion is as integral to any movement as a mission statement. We’ll be watching.