The politics behind inauguration outfits: What Jill Biden, Kamala Harris and more signified with their fashion choices

As Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, we take a closer look at the clothes worn by the event's protagonists

President Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at his inauguration in Washington. Getty 
President Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at his inauguration in Washington. Getty 

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the US.

For the ceremony, Biden wore a dark blue Ralph Lauren suit custom made by the American fashion house. Teamed with a matching coat and pale blue tie, it was a look that was designed to speak of measured calm and stability. In choosing such a high-profile American fashion brand, Biden also underscored his message of unity.

Over the course of his long political career, Biden has come to understand the quiet power of a discreet single-breasted suit in either black or classic blue. He has traditionally opted for a classic-cut jacket that flatters but does not distract, worn either with a crisp white shirt and a muted, plain tie, open-necked or even sans jacket and with rolled sleeves for those man-of-the-people moments.

A look at President Joe Biden's style evolution over the years:

Like his former running mate Barack Obama, Biden’s style is simple and elegant. To celebrate Biden's inauguration, his former boss took to social media to post an image of the pair taken during his tenure in the White House. Wearing near identical dark suits, they exude an air of control and command.

Former president Donald Trump, by contrast, left the White House for the last time earlier today wearing one of his trademark boxy suits. Breaking with tradition by boycotting Biden's swearing-in ceremony, Trump boarded Air Force One for the last time in a dark suit and one of his preferred red ties, once again worn too long (a trick Trump apparently thinks makes him look slimmer).

During his time at the White House, despite advocating a “Make America Great Again” policy, Trump preferred to wear suits by the Italian house Brioni.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a ceremony on January 19 at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Dr Biden wore a dress and coat designed by emerging American name Jonathan Cohen. Getty
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a ceremony on January 19 at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Dr Biden wore a dress and coat designed by emerging American name Jonathan Cohen. Getty

First Lady Jill Biden

The new first lady of the US chose to wear an all-blue look from American label Markarian, headed by Alexandra O'Neill, for the inauguration ceremony.

The sketch for the first lady's inaugural day look, by emerging US brand Markarian. Courtesy Markarian New York
A sketch of Dr Jill Biden's Inauguration Ceremony look, by emerging US brand Markarian. Courtesy Markarian New York

By opting for the blue tweed coat with velvet cuffs, paired with a pearl- and Swarovski crystal-encrusted dress and matching silk face mask by the little-known US label, the new first lady is following in the footsteps of former first lady Michelle Obama, by using her position to champion emerging American talent. Founded in 2017, Markarian lists Priyanka Chopra, Lizzo and Kate Hudson among its clients.

In a similar vein, at a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool the night before the inauguration, the first lady wore a purple dress and coat that tied at the side with a velvet ribbon by emerging American designer Jonathan Cohen, who is heavily focused on upcycling and sustainability.

See what past first ladies have worn on inauguration day:

For Biden’s victory speech after winning the election in November 2020, Jill Biden cannily wore Oscar de la Renta in a nod to history and the decades that the brand has spent dressing other first ladies, including Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan.

Dr Biden has already had time to adjust to life in the spotlight, having spent eight years as the wife of the vice president. During that time, she perfected a polished look that veered from bold prints and bright colours to simple tailoring.

For the inauguration of her husband in 2017, Melania Trump selected a baby blue cashmere ensemble by Ralph Lauren. Slim cut with a mock turtleneck and cropped jacket, it came with matching shoes, gloves and bag, and was a clear nod to the look chosen by Jackie Kennedy for the 1961 inauguration of her husband.

Michelle Obama, meanwhile, championed American designers during her time at the White House. Starting with Jason Wu for the 2009 Inaugural Ball, through Naeem Khan, J Crew and even Target, Obama came full circle, wearing Jason Wu again for her departure.

Vice President Harris

Wearing a tailored look by black American design duo Rogers and Hudson, Kamala Harris is sworn in as US vice president as her husband Doug Emhoff holds a Bible. Reuters
Wearing a tailored look by black American design duo Rogers and Hudson, Kamala Harris is sworn in as US vice president as her husband Doug Emhoff holds a Bible. Reuters

Kamala Harris has become the first woman and the first person of colour to hold the office of vice president of the US. For the ceremony, Harris wore a look by emerging black designers Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson, which included a minimalist purple dress and matching coat.

The pair are already earning a reputation for their use of dramatic shapes and vivid colour and and have dressed former first lady Michelle Obama and singer Beyonce.

Harris also wore a string of pearls by Puerto Rican jeweller Wilfredo Rosado, continuing a tradition of wearing pearls for all key events. In her honour, a Facebook group was set up inviting women of all ages to don pearls to mark the inauguration as a symbol of female empowerment.

Harris also favours a fuss-free approach to dressing. She has a firm understanding of how good tailoring can elevate a look, and to celebrate her electoral win in November 2020, she wore an all-white trouser suit by Carolina Herrera that was seen as a nod to the suffragettes. The new vice president also frequently teams skinny-fit jeans and her treasured Converse shoes with a tailored jacket.

Lady Gaga

Singer Lady Gaga wore custom Schiaparelli to the Inauguration on January 20, 2021. With a fitted navy jacket, and huge red skirt, she also wore a large peace dove as a golden brooch. AFP
Singer Lady Gaga wore custom Schiaparelli to the Inauguration on January 20, 2021. With a fitted navy jacket, and huge red skirt, she also wore a large peace dove as a golden brooch. AFP

The singer performed the national anthem at the swearing-in ceremony in Schiaparelli Haute Couture by Daniel Roseberry, with a slim-fit navy jacket, and voluminous full-length red skirt. Custom made for the event, Gaga wore the patriotically hued outfit with an oversized gold brooch of a dove carrying an olive branch, the symbol for peace.

"May we all make peace with each other," the singer wrote on Twitter, emphasising the accessory's message.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted to wear all blue for the ceremony. Blue is the colour associated with calm and stability. EPA 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted to wear all blue for the ceremony. Blue is the colour associated with calm and stability. EPA 

During the Trump administration, Pelosi became well known for using her outfits to send a message to the president, such as wearing the exact same outfit for both of his impeachment hearings, echoing the feeling of history repeating itself. To welcome in President Biden, however, the Speaker of the House opted for a classic blue coat, worn with a patterned face mask. Significantly, blue represents loyalty, sincerity, wisdom and stability, and is the designated colour of the Democratic Party.

Former first lady Michelle Obama

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama wore head to toe burgundy, by emerging black designer Sergio Hudson to the inauguration of Joe Biden as President,  20 January 2021. EPA
Michelle Obama wore head to toe burgundy, by emerging black designer Sergio Hudson. EPA

Staying true to her commitment to bring new designers to the fore, the former first lady donned head-to-toe burgundy by Sergio Hudson, one half of the emerging duo that dressed Vice President Harris. Bucking the trend of wearing a dress or skirt, Obama instead went for belted, wide-cut bootleg trousers and turtleneck sweater, under a tailored coat, to help stave off the cold.

Clearly a favourite brand, Obama has worn Hudson designs frequently, including a purple trouser suit she donned for her Becoming book tour.

Jennifer Lopez

Singer Jennifer Lopez wore suffragette white by Chanel to perform at the inauguration. AFP
Singer Jennifer Lopez wore suffragette white by Chanel to perform at the inauguration. AFP

For her performance, the singer wore head-to-toe Chanel. With a high-neck blouse, sequinned trousers and ankle-length tweed coat, as well as matching gloves and hat, the singer clearly nodded to the all-white ensembles worn by suffragettes when campaigning for voting equality.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, wore purple Ralph Lauren for the inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Her choice of outfit echoed that of Vice President Harris and Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Getty
Hillary Clinton wore purple Ralph Lauren for the inauguration in Washington. Getty

The former first lady arrived at the inauguration wearing a deep-purple trouser suit by American label Ralph Lauren, echoing the looks worn by Vice President Harris and Michelle Obama. As a mix of red and blue, the choice was clearly no accident, but rather the blending of the two political parties, and therefore a symbol of unity.

Updated: January 21, 2021 02:14 PM

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