Joe Biden, Kamala Harris highlight American designers for Inauguration Day

With symbolism running rampant on Inauguration Day, the soon-to-be president and vice president made subtle nods to the country in their fashion Wednesday.

President-elect Joe Biden matched a navy suit and navy overcoat from American designer Ralph Lauren, the same designer of first lady Melania Trump’s powder blue suit in 2017.

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His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, wore an ocean blue wool tweed coat and dress from emerging designer Alexandra O’Neill, who founded her own luxury womenswear label, Markarian, in 2017. She matched her outfit with a blue mask and wore her hair in soft waves.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris similarly chose two up-and-coming artists for her look of regal purple: Baton Rouge native Christopher John Rogers and South Carolina’s Sergio Hudson, both Black designers.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff also went with a Ralph Lauren suit.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled the traditional presidential balls, where fashionable outfits are more celebrated, leaving the new First and Second families with fewer options for highlight moments.

Melania Trump, a former model, found trouble finding designers to dress her early in her husband’s presidency, with more than half a dozen, including Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, refusing to work with her for her inauguration outfit.

Harris gave a nod to women’s suffrage and Shirley Chisholm in pearls and purple.

Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush also donned hues of purple. Harris has cited Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, as an inspiration for her career. Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black major-party candidate to run for U.S. president.

Pearls had a strong fashion showing, in line with a social media campaign. Nobody in attendance did them quite like Jennifer Lopez — from earrings to bracelets — as she sang “This Land is Your Land.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, wore a pearl necklace owned by Chisholm. It was a gift from Chisholm’s goddaughter.

“Because of Shirley Chisholm, I am,” Lee, who is Black, posted on Twitter. “Because of Shirley Chisholm, Vice President Harris is.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew fashion praise on social media for his cozy, comfortable inauguration wear: his signature beige parka and a pair of knit patterned mittens.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders attends the inauguration Wednesday. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Sen. Bernie Sanders attends the inauguration Wednesday. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Combined ShapeCaption
Sen. Bernie Sanders attends the inauguration Wednesday. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Michelle Obama, a fashion icon, drew huge praise from fans on social media for her belted pantsuit in plum, also by Hudson.

Joe Biden wore a navy blue suit and overcoat by Ralph Lauren. It was a change from Brooks Brothers, the oldest U.S. clothier at 202. The brand has outfitted 41 of the 46 American presidents, including Barack Obama during his inauguration in 2009.

Véronique Hyland, fashion features director for Elle magazine, noted the wins for young American designers.

“They chose a diverse group of talents — Christopher John Rogers, Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond, Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill and Jonathan Cohen — to be a part of this historic moment,” she said. “It made for a meaningful statement at this particular time, when all small businesses, including fashion businesses, are in need of support and spotlighting.”

Harris’ choice to wear pieces by Black designers “felt particularly significant in light of her triply historic title as the first female, Black and Asian American vice president of our country,” Hyland added.

Another inauguration fashion star on Twitter was Nikolas Ajagu, the husband of Harris’ sister, Meena Harris. Sharp-eyed sneakerheads noted his Air Dior Jordan 1 shoes.

Harris’ stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, also schooled some of the older folks in her embellished Shetland Miu Miu coat in a pied de poule pattern and large brown button at the neck. The pointed white collar took the wind a time or two.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.