Story at a glance

  • Vice President Harris and others in attendance wore the color purple on Inauguration Day.
  • Their fashion choices spurred speculation, with some crediting the idea of unity.
  • Others pointed to the historical association of purple with the women’s suffrage movement and Shirley Chisholm.

A woman may be vice president now, but she — as well as all other women in politics — will still be scrutinized for her fashion choices. But Vice President Harris is no stranger to the double standard and came prepared in a bold-shoulder, two-button purple overcoat and dress by Christopher John Rogers and a low pair of black heels by Sergio Hudson, two Black designers. 

Why purple? There’s been a lot of speculation, and it doesn’t start here. Four years ago when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost the election, she also wore purple in what many speculated was a nod to bipartisanship — blue and red, Democrat and Republican, mixed together as the color purple.


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"I did wear purple with a purpose because I knew the theme that President Biden was striking was unity. I thought as you combine red and blue, the way that we are divided politically in our country, you get purple," Clinton, who wore purple again today, told reporters. "I wanted just to send a bit of a symbolic message that we need to come together."

The vice president wasn't the only one in purple either — former first lady Michelle Obama wore purple on Inauguration Day and now-first lady Jill Biden wore purple on her arrival to the nation’s capital one day before and a memorial for COVID-19 victims later that night. Jonathan Cohen, who designed Jill Biden’s look, shared a message from Venezuelan-American entrepreneur Georgeana Auxiliadora on his Instagram Story, that read, "Red + Blue = Purple. This moment is about unity. Not red vs. blue, but all of us coming together as a Nation."

Vice President Harris is especially partial to the color and even used it along with gold for her presidential campaign, noted CNN’s Abby Phillips


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"That is a nod to Shirley Chisholm who ran for president as a black woman decades ago and has inspired her political career,” said Phillips. “You see Kamala Harris nodding to this major moment in American history for so many women, people of color, for her sorority sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha."

Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, adopted yellow and purple as her campaign’s colors when she ran for president in 1972, the first Black woman to do so. Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, wore a pearl necklace owned by Chisholm to the inauguration, saying on Twitter, "Because of Shirley Chisholm, I am. Because of Shirley Chisholm, Vice President Harris is."

 

The color purple is also associated with suffragists and was first worn by the Women’s Social and Political Union in England to represent “the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity,” according to the National Parks Service

“Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause,” the National Woman’s Party wrote in a newsletter in 1913.

Whether for unity, women’s rights, or because it “pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it,” as Alice Walker once said, the color purple was yet another marker at the inauguration of President Biden of a new administration. 


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Published on Jan 20, 2021