Fashion as a symbol: inauguration outfits and their significance

Katie Hillemeyer, Editor

Amidst riots at the Capitol on Jan, 6 during the certification of the 2020 election, the FBI and the American public worried about the possibility of further violence during the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Fortunately, no such event happened, and the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power which has been maintained now for over 200 years carried on once more. In fact, Fox News’s Chris Wallace called the inauguration the best he has seen after watching every inauguration since John F. Kennedy’s.

One of the elements of the inauguration that many people were quick to point out was the bold fashion decisions made by attendees. Fabrics, designers, and colors were all meticulously chosen to fit the occasion and President Biden’s theme of “unity”.

The fashion at Biden’s inauguration truly highlights the power of fashion as symbolic speech. In fact, for many attendees including First Lady Dr. Jill Biden who did not make a verbal speech at the ceremony, fashion was the primary way to convey a message to the American public and to represent Biden’s goals for his presidency.

Dr. Biden donned a cashmere coat and a coordinating gown during the inaugural ceremony designed by Uruguay-born fashion designer Gabrielle Hearst. Hearst, a friend of Dr. Biden, sourced pieces from New York City’s garment district with a distinct focus on sustainability.

The coat was adorned with details like embroidered state flowers dancing across the bottom of the coat along with the quote: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”, harkens back to America’s shared history and Biden’s identity as an educator. The Delaware state flower is placed over Dr. Biden’s heart on the coat: a reminder that although her new residence is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., her heart will always be with Delaware.

All of the materials used to make the coat were picked from available fabric inventories – rather than being newly made – to cut down on the environmental footprint of the coat.

Vice President Kamala Harris wore an eye-catching onyx colored cocktail dress adorned with liquid sequins and overcoat designed by African-American designer Sergio Hudson.

Hudson designed the outfit around the historical significance of Harris’s vice presidency and the obstacles Harris has needed to overcome to get to the White House.

“We kept the silhouette very structured and tailored, because that’s who the Vice President is,” Hudson said in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “But the liquid sequins give her glamour and shine, because her influence and the way she’s broken barriers is a light for so many of us. She shines so we can all shine.”

Hudson also designed the central pieces for former First Lady Michelle Obama’s outfit, who wore a monochrome plum pantsuit outfit accentuated using an oversized gold belt all designed by Hudson.

The color — ever the statement — was not intended to be a political message as many viewers had assumed, however.

“You can call it berry, wine, plum or burgundy. I’m calling it wineberry plum for the moment. What it wasn’t was bi-partisan purple,” Obama’s stylist Meredith Koop wrote. “That’s a cute story, but it wasn’t the intention. I love the different textures in the coat, pants, sweater and belt of this monochromatic look. It was the perfect balance.”

Rather, Koop chose to center the outfit around Michelle Obama’s personality: “What I want to convey most, though, is that this particular outfit is about the woman wearing it more than anything,” Koop said. “[Michelle] has taken a look at the rule book and turned the page. She leads, she inspires and she slays.”

The musical and artistic performances within the inauguration gave a modern touch to the centuries old democratic tradition.

Pop icon Lady Gaga, who performed the national anthem, made her mark on the inauguration in true “Gaga” style through fashion. Her stylist, Daniel Roseberry, outfitted Gaga in a Schiaparelli 13 foot wide skirt with a navy overcoat and platform shoes which provided a canvas for the main highlight of the outfit: a large gold bird brooch, located on the chest of the dress.

The brooch quickly became a hot topic on social media as many speculated that the brooch was meant to replicate the mockingjay symbol from the Hunger Games trilogy. In reality, the brooch actually was of a dove carrying an olive branch. “A dove carrying an olive branch,”  Gaga said. “May we all make peace with each other.”

Poet Laureate Amanda Gordon stunned viewers with her powerful reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb.”

Gordon represented the themes of unity and optimism present in her poem through her outfit with a vibrant yellow Prada overcoat topped with a red satin headband. Gordon chose to wear yellow instead of the purples, whites, navys, and reds present throughout the rest of the crowd because Dr. Biden had previously complimented her for wearing yellow at another event. Yet, the real standout element of Gordon’s outfit was jewelry.

Gordon cleverly juxtaposed the big-name Prada pieces of the rest of her outfit with independent jewelry designers. Her ring, shaped in the symbol of a caged bird, alluded to Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name, and it was a gift given to her by Oprah Winfrey.

“[Fashion] has so much meaning to me,” Gordon said. “It’s my way to lean into the history that came before me and all the people supporting me.”