Kamala Harris Goes Beyond the White Pantsuit

The fact that the third night of the Democratic National Convention, when Kamala Harris officially accepted her party’s nomination for vice president, followed the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote (or rather, some women’s right to vote) was both fitting and significant, given that it was an evening filled with strong female voices, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Representative Gabby Giffords and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

They were in the majority, aside from former President Barack Obama, whose stirring, urgent ode to the Constitution — delivered from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia — and the constant work and faith demanded to make a “better union,” was driven by his warning that such faith was now under almost existential threat from President Trump.

And the women spoke both personally and powerfully: of the choice facing the nation, of the critical need to vote, of how the Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. will address the issues of gun control, child care — of their own lived experience. Mrs. Clinton, in her living room, addressed the election of 2016; Ms. Pelosi spoke of the change for which women are fighting in the House of Representatives; Ms. Warren, of the plan for an infrastructure for families. They acknowledged the work of those who came before.

As part of that, Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Giffords all wore white, the color that, since Mrs. Clinton’s nomination for president in 2016 when she wore a white suit for her acceptance speech, has become a tacit nod to the suffragists in the public political discourse. It was the color worn by the historic numbers of women in Congress at the State of the Union in 2019; the color worn by Ms. Pelosi when she announced that the House would begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president later that year.

Ms. Warren wore a red jacket; Mr. Obama, a blue shirt, tie and suit. But for much of the night, it was the white, with all its implicit associations, that echoed.

Until Ms. Harris, that is. The nominee took to the stage alone in a cavernous room in Wilmington, Del., filled with flags but no visible people. And she wore burgundy.

To be specific, she wore a double-breasted, broad-shouldered jacket with slightly flared trousers as she talked about the women who paved her way and inspired her, from her mother to Representative Shirley Chisolm. As she shared her own journey, and decried the current crises of Covid-19 and structural racism, and the way they are being handled. As she accepted her historic nomination, and moved her party, and possibly the country, forward.

The white suits have served as potent iconography: a symbol of women’s voices, and unity, and struggle. But they have also represented frustration and women’s role as the opposition.

Ms. Harris’s decision to do something different was a reminder that we are on the verge of a new era. (You can bet the issue of “to wear white or not to wear white” was raised at some point in the planning of her appearance, given its butterfly effect since this event four years ago; these choices are highly considered.)

Much has been made of the fact that Ms. Harris is being anointed as her party’s future, a woman at the forefront of a new generation of Democratic leaders. The election looms. There is a chance, once again, to change history. In etching that idea across the retinas of the voting public, every detail, even the color of a suit, matters.


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