We are seeing a trend emerging in America; the most powerful women in politics are becoming style influencers. From Kamala Harris’s extensive Converse collection to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s signature sleek middle parting and red lip, times are changing and fashion is starting to take up more space in politics.
Fashion is one of our most effective tools for communication. Everyday we make fashion choices based on how we feel, or what message we want to put out to the world. Our clothes have the power to give us more confidence or feel more authoritative. Nowhere is this more important than in politics, where what you wear can communicate important messages and shape public opinion.
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Political stylist Lauren Rothman told ELLE.com: “Practical fashion in politics is now entwined with a leader’s political messaging.” With regards to Harris’s uniform of Chuck Taylors, Rothman said: “(Harris is) radiating confidence and helping an audience engage.” Harris’s fashion choices increase her likability factor because of one simple reason: we all wear trainers. When we look at a woman in a powerful position and see her wearing accessible brands, we perceive her as being ‘one of us’ and feel more sympathetic to her cause.
A notable example of the sizeable influence Harris’s style has over others came after she was photographed wearing Timberland boots together with pearls(!) According to Lyst – a fashion trend search platform – searches for the shoes increased 376% week-on-week. Demand for the brand also increased by 25% compared to the previous week.
Whilst Harris’ shoes have this year been under the spotlight, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also no stranger to being scrutinised over her fashion choices. When Vanity Fair unveiled their December cover featuring AOC as the cover star, many protested against the price of the clothes she wore for the shoot. Critics estimated that the outfits – including an Aliétte ivory silk wool suit for the cover image and a Wales Bonner polka-dot dress – cost an estimated $14,000 in total.
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Presenting our December cover star: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez! Two elections in, the congresswoman is still fighting the fight—and she’s as sure as she’s ever been. Now, she opens up about her father’s influence on her political life, the day Ted Yoho lost his shit, and what it means to become @AOC. “I don’t want to be a savior,” she tells V.F. “I want to be a mirror.” Read the cover story now at the link in bio. Story by Michelle Ruiz. Photograph by @tylersphotos. Sittings editor @mr_carlos_nazario. Fashion director @chapoteau. Set design by @frau.juliawagner.
Whilst AOC defended herself by pointing out that the outfits used for shoots were borrowed, the fact that she faced backlash for the shoot in the first place points to a bigger problem. What we wear should never cast doubt upon our workplace performance. The two things simply aren’t linked.
Republicans are Very Mad (again) about my appearance. This time they’re mad that I look good in borrowed clothes (again).
Listen, if Republicans want pointers on looking your best, I’m happy to share.
Tip #1: Drink water and don’t be racist
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 29, 2020
In her interview with Vanity Fair, AOC opened up about her ongoing struggles dressing for the public eye, saying: “dressing the part has been an unexpected struggle, but it’s also a way to connect with constituents.”
She continued: “It’s legitimately hard being a first-generation woman… and being working class, trying to navigate a professional environment. It continues to take me so long to try to figure out how to look put-together without having a huge designer closet.”
In August Lyst named AOC as the most powerful influencer following her endorsement of Telfar bags on Instagram in which she called the designer and founder, Telfar Clemens “a hometown hero.” Searches for the brand increased by 163% week-on-week and demand for Telfar shopping bags increased 270% after she posted a series of Instagram Stories in which she showed her 6.3 million followers what she carries in her medium-sized oxblood version of the sought-after bag.
It is also worth noting that both Harris and Ocasio-Cortez are promoting more environmentally-conscious ways of approaching fashion, intentionally or otherwise. AOC has previously said that she often rents, borrows or thrifts designer clothes for media appearances, and Harris had her collection of Converse trainers long before this year (just see her husband Douglas Emhoff’s tweet!)
With American politics on everyone’s mind at the moment, we can surely expect to see much more power-dressing in the coming months and maybe even some festive Chucks from Kamala Harris!