Lacklustre? No! Biden's inauguration was actually a grape day for fashion

Many commentators have snagged on the symbolic importance of the colour that seemed to predominate among participants' outfits: purple

21 January 2021 - 12:44 By Paula Andropoulos
US Vice-President Kamala Harris wore an outfit by Christopher John Rogers during the 59th presidential inauguration on January 20 2021 in Washington, DC.
US Vice-President Kamala Harris wore an outfit by Christopher John Rogers during the 59th presidential inauguration on January 20 2021 in Washington, DC.
Image: Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images

The four principals of yesterday’s historical inauguration made use of their attire to present a united front, with both President Joe Biden and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff electing (ha!) to wear Ralph Lauren instead of the more traditional Brooks Brothers suits; and both Vice-President Kamala Harris and first lady Dr Jill Biden opting for bright monotone ensembles by up-and-coming American designers.

But the attention of many commentators has snagged on the symbolic importance of the colour that seemed to predominate among participants and key observers yesterday, and in the days leading up to the swearing-in: articles of purple clothing were everywhere you looked, and there is no shortage of theories as to why this colour emerged as the focal point of the festivities.

US President Joe Biden in Ralph Lauren and first lady Jill Biden in Markarian.
US President Joe Biden in Ralph Lauren and first lady Jill Biden in Markarian.
Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Most notably, Harris wore purple from head to toe, donning a bright, grapey ensemble by Florida-born, New York-based designer Christopher John Rogers.

This is significant for a number of reasons. Rogers is a young black designer, and an American, which attests to Harris's commitment to representing and uplifting black industry, one of her most consistent promises to prospective supporters to date.

In contrast to Harris and Biden, former first lady Melania Trump routinely wore a medley of European designers, and even departed the White House for the last time in a mishmash of Hérmes, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana.

Harris’s chromatic signals have also been read as notable on numerous symbolic fronts.

Purple was the cornerstone colour of the suffragette movement: Harris’s garment has been read as a nod to the women who came before her, and to one woman in particular — Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman ever elected to Congress in the US.

Purple is also the composite combination of red and blue, signifying, perhaps, the coming together of Democratic and Republican forces under the auspices of the US flag.

Former first lady Hillary Clinton in Ralph Lauren.
Former first lady Hillary Clinton in Ralph Lauren.
Image: Rob Carr/Getty Images

The monochrome styling also had the effect of differentiating Harris from the crowd of subdued greys and blues, as well as gesturing towards an affinity between the two families — there was something distinctly uniform about how both Harrises and Bidens were dressed.

Instead of presenting like two individual families, they looked for all the world like a seamless team: therein lies the intelligence of what might otherwise be perceived as a slightly lacklustre fashion moment.

Former first ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton also opted for purple garb. Obama wore a plummy jumpsuit and matching coat by up-and-coming African American designer Sergio Hudson, the latter a bright, joyous compound of purple Ralph Lauren garments.

First lady Dr Jill Biden also opted to showcase American design, wearing a teal-blue coat and dress by Markarian, the very young house of New York-based designer Alexandra O’Neill.

Former US first lady Michelle Obama in Sergio Hudson.
Former US first lady Michelle Obama in Sergio Hudson.
Image: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Even outgoing VP Mike Pence wore a purple-ish tie: evidently, everyone got the memo.

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