Why Kamala Harris’s suffragette white suit is a beacon of hope for the future

The vice president-elect is believed to have given a nod to the suffragette movement with her colour choice

US Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, gave her acceptance speech wearing a white trouser suit. Getty
Powered by automated translation

When Kamala Harris took to the stage on Saturday for her first speech as vice president-elect, she sent out a strong message to women across the world.

With a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris is breaking multiple barriers as the first ever woman, first ever Indian-American and first black American to serve as vice president.

With so much history resting on her shoulders, Harris honoured the women that came before her in her speech, including her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who left India for the US at the age of 19. She also singled out the countless black, Asian, Latina, white and Native American women "throughout our nation's history who have paved the way for this moment tonight".

"Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty and justice for all," Harris added.

For the speech, Harris wore a white trouser suit by US designer Carolina Herrera. The New York label has long been favoured by former first ladies such as Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, Laura Bush and the outgoing Melania Trump, and in wearing it, Harris not only declared her support for American labels, but also established a clear link between herself and the White House.

The wardrobe choice also echoed similar choices by Hillary Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro and Nancy Pelosi, all Democrats who have tried to smash the glass ceiling of US politics.

19th June 1911:  Emmeline Pankhurst (front left) leads a suffragette parade through London, with the protesters all dressed in white. Accompanying them is a mounted policeman.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Emmeline Pankhurst, front left, leads a suffragette parade through London in 1911, with the protesters all dressed in white. Getty Images  

The trouser suit has long been a staple of power dressing and, by choosing to wear white, finished with a demure cream pussybow blouse, Harris again looked to the past.

As Twitter users noted in their droves, the colour nods to the suffragettes who, according to the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, adopted the colour during their campaigning for women’s votes more than a century ago, as a symbol of "the quality of our purpose".

The founder of the British movement, activist Emmeline Pankhurst, would address crowds wearing a white duster coat, making herself easier to see, as too did Emily Davidson, the campaigner who propelled the struggle on to the world stage by stepping in front of King George V’s horse at the 1913 Derby.

In acknowledging those before her, Harris thanked “all the women who 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 the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard".

Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. Getty
Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. Getty

“Tonight, I reflect on their struggle,” Harris continued. “Their determination and the strength of their vision — to see what can be unburdened by what has been — I stand on their shoulders.”

In her closing comments, Harris acknowledged that a seismic shift had taken place in US politics, and expressed hope for the future. “I may be the first woman in this office,” she said. “[But] I won’t be the last.”