Politics Undressed: The Inauguration Edition

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Following the agonisingly long wait for the US presidential results, Joe Biden won the fight to become President.  With this win, hope has been reignited for the United States.

Alongside the anticipation towards Joe Biden’s arrival in office, one area that evoked curiosity among the public in the states and overseas was the inauguration. Not only did people wonder how many people would attend but rather, what would Dr Jill Biden wear? As wife to the next President, her first reveal to the world as America’s next First Lady was incredibly significant. Her inauguration attire, and those that follow, will set the precedence and tone for Joe Biden’s presidency. Women in political power and positions are often judged by how fashionable they appear on the screen. Yet, their overt messages are only noticed by a few.

Michelle Obama

For President Obama’s 2009 inauguration ball, Former First lady Michelle Obama did not turn to a well-known luxury designer. Instead, she chose an unknown Taiwanese-Canadian fashion designer named Jason Wu. This struck a chord with the American public. Her choice symbolised the couple’s active effort to bring together the states through inclusion and diversity.

The choice of white for an inauguration dress also denoted new hope.  In essence, it was a clear presentation of a blank slate for the American people. Her inauguration dress served as a promise to the active efforts to bridge America’s socio-economic gaps during Barrack Obama’s presidency. Obamacare is one example of the blank slate the First lady promised.

The story of dress and power have always gone hand-in-hand for centuries ranging from Monarchs to tribesmen to modern-day politics. Lady Obama understood the language of fashion as she continued to incorporate numerous other designers from different backgrounds. She strengthened international relationships by respectfully aiding designers from her guest’s native countries during state dinners and trips. These conscious efforts awarded her the title of sartorial diplomacy, meaning she paired her outfit choices to her politics.

Michelle Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Ball Dress.

Melania Trump

For her inauguration outfit, Melania Trump donned a baby blue Ralph Lauren co-ord.  The outfit complimented her looks and showcased an elegant style she continued to throughout Donald’s presidency. Perhaps the baby-blue imagery symbolised her new life as the First lady. By choosing American fashion company Ralph Lauren, Ivanka expressed pride over her newfound position in America.  However, unlike Michelle, Melania’s attire did not follow the approach of sartorial diplomacy.

Akin to her husband’s policies, her clothing choice evoked shock among the public after visiting a Texas child migrant centre. Before visiting migrant children made orphans by Trump’s executive orders, the former first lady donned a jacket inscribed with the words “I really don’t care, do you?”. This sparked anger in her spectators as it acted as a gloomy reminder of Trump’s controversial policy which separated and somehow ‘lost’ migrant children from their families. Melania later disclosed how her jacket choice was unintentional. But perhaps the jacket reflects her true perspective as a First lady and bystander during her husband’s “America First” presidency. 

Donald and Melania Trump arriving at the Whitehouse after his inauguration ceremony.

The Women Of The Inauguration

As both Americans and overseas observers awaited the next First Lady’s introduction, spectators were pleasantly surprised to witness a coordinated show of unity. The most notable female attendees unified through their colour-blocking. Kamala Harris donned an all purple attire created by Black designers. As the first female Vice President with Indian and African-American heritage, Kamala used her image to feature the newfound representation within the White House. Similarly, Michelle Obama appeared head-to-toe in maroon. Each significant figure wore an American designer, thus communicating a notion of community. Together, their solidarity unveiled bipartisanship. Jill’s blue and the women’s red tones complemented each other just as they do on the colour wheel. Likewise, their colour-blocking further imparts a unified notion of sisterhood.

Overall, the monochrome styles appeared as though the women moved as a single unit. Their coordinated colour and styles demonstrated an allied front. Weighted with heavy symbolism, the inauguration served as a political runway, and their message was clear. America will move forward in unity.

A bird’s-eye-view of the Inauguration Ceremony Outfits.

Dr Jill Biden

Every detail from the inauguration was symbolic. From swearing an oath onto the Bible to the outfit choices. A choice, which Dr Jill Biden took as a prodigious opportunity to define Biden’s presidency’s next four years. For the 59th Presidential inauguration, President Joe Biden donned a navy suit with a Ralph Lauren overcoat. Contrastingly, Dr Jill Biden wore a sky blue custom-made outfit by up-and-coming designer Alexandra O’Neill. Embroidered with Swarovksi crystals, the First Lady’s appearance was the epitome of peace and serenity. This thoughtful decision comes after the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Her coordinated blue dress, coat, and gloves perfectly asserted a message of tranquillity. A sentiment to which we hope will be the dominating emotion throughout the next coming years. Even the designer disclosed how the First Lady’s outfit was created to signify “trust, confidence, and stability”.

Furthermore, the First Lady’s outfit choice expresses a conscientious stance. For instance, under the womenswear label Markarian, Alexandra O’Neill curated the outfit to reduce waste. Inspired by the fashion sustainability movement, both Alexandra and Jill imparted an allegorical message for others to follow. Certainly, the current First Lady has created a lasting impression. Following the footsteps of former First lady Obama, the current is using her position judiciously.

Albeit sometimes overlooked, her fashion choices will aid in forming a presidential and national identity. Jill Biden’s outfit was not just about how she looks, but what she represents as First Lady. Will she continue to use her image as a political message? More-so, will Jill Biden uphold the moral principles behind her introductory attire?

For these answers, history will be the judge.

Bill and Jill Biden at the 59th inauguration.

If you would like to follow the active efforts of the First Ladies by incorporating your own values into your wardrobe; take a look at these links below!

  • If you haven’t already, take the opportunity to figure out where your ethics and values lie. I.e your stance on animal cruelty, fast fashion, sustainability.
  • Check to see if a brand aligns with your own ethics and values.
  • Learn how to dress more sustainably.
  • Have a read of this article outlining the truth behind the fast fashion industry.

Words by Naomi Akintola.

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