You might expect that a presidential inauguration would be plastered with colors of red, white and blue, with uninteresting fashion from political figures in attendance — but the 2021 presidential inauguration was far from the status quo.
A poised administration and guests draped in vibrant colors, glistening accessories and well-known designer threads graced the U.S. Capitol while sparking attention across media outlets. Household brands took center stage at the inauguration, and unique stylings left audiences bewildered.
Ruth Samuel, a senior majoring in media and journalism, is a senior adviser for The Bridge, a student-run publication. She said writing articles that concern the world of fashion has shown her that fashion is inherently political.
“Fashion is political in a sense that it has so much of an effect on our society and it affects how much you move through the world,” Samuel said.
President Joe Biden sported a clean-cut, navy blue Ralph Lauren suit with a gray wool overcoat to layer. First Lady Jill Biden wore a shimmering teal dress and coat from American designer Alexandra O'Neill from the New York label Markarian.
The representation of American designers embodies a message that the American fashion industry is worth appreciation. Although the president and first lady were the main stars of the event, they weren’t the only individuals to put their best foot forward.
Denasia Pegues, a sophomore majoring in business administration who is the designer of her own clothing line, Sweven, said she loved how Vice President Kamala Harris embodied her culture through her clothing.
“I loved Kamala Harris’ coat,” Pegues said. “I really liked that she represented us, and she wore our designs because I know you could go out and wear Gucci, which is white, but if I had that status, I would always support my people.”
Harris greeted crowds in a purple single-breasted coat and dress from Black American designer Christopher John Rogers. Many presume that the vice president’s bold choice of purple was a homage to women’s suffrage and the unification of the colors red and blue. Similarly, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wore a purple pantsuit by Ralph Lauren.
Hérica Valladares, a UNC assistant professor in the Department of Classics, said the fashion at the inauguration spoke to the future of the country.
“You could not have missed the tone of celebration and of change,” Valladares said. “(President Biden) has said that he wants to create a government that looks like America, and I think that the choices of clothes, of colors, of styles — but also the choice of artists and performers — were all tied in with this message that this is an America that’s looking forward, that is youthful, that is vibrant.”
The invitees of the presidential cabinet received humble nods from the fashion community and social media as they stunned in glamorous ensembles and striking accent pieces to match.
Most notably, former First Lady Michelle Obama graced the stage with a burgundy, monochromatic fit from Black American designer Sergio Hudson. All plum-colored separates worked well with one another – from the turtleneck sweater to the circular, gold buckle belt handmade by Hudson himself.
Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, wore a Prada headband and Nikos Koulis earrings gifted to her by Oprah Winfrey. Her Miuccia Prada Coat was a bright yellow, and First Lady Jill Biden asked if she could wear the color at the inauguration after she viewed a video of Gorman’s poetry recital in 2017.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders became a viral sensation with his wool mittens, knitted by Vermont school teacher, Jen Ellis, and his thick Burton coat. The image of his lackadaisical seated position in anticipation of the event grew in popularity as people began to impose the image upon various backgrounds and other notable images in popular culture.
High fashion has made its way to garner national or, in this case, federal attention.
“It matters who is making the garments, who gets to be the face of such, what does it mean for how do we perceive our leaders and who fits into that context of a leader?” Samuel said.
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