There’s no denying that these women are more than just their choice of clothing (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images).
Despite its political and historical significance, the event of my inauguration was very different.
Michelle Obama’s stunning burgundy outfit, expertly adorned with a performance belt and leather gloves, completely stole the show.
I have always been fascinated by the style choices of the world’s most influential women and the subtle art of choosing clothes for historic and tense moments.
The stakes are high; one misstep can offend millions, but if you do it right, your clothes can be a wonderful extension of your political message.
Yet I am constantly punished by others for my anti-feminist fixation on fashion. I’m told that when the style of a woman in power is so important, it limits her to the stereotypes she wants to get rid of. An old-fashioned approach that judges women by their looks rather than their substance.
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This viewpoint is not new, of course, and it argues that what women in positions of power wear is sexist.
There is no denying that these women are more important than their fashion choices, but this should not lead us to ignore the importance of what they wear. While some say we should shift the focus from fashion to politics, it seems clear to me that fashion is political.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening at the beginning of the week.
From Biden’s granddaughters to Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and even Lady Gaga, the ceremony was filled with fashionable monochrome magic, each ensemble more eye-catching than the last.
But for some, strong statements have been made.
By dismissing fashion as insignificant, we are downplaying the enormous skill, symbolism and economic impact of the fashion industry (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Vice President Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama both chose black designers to wear them – a coincidence? I don’t think so. The Vice President’s daughter-in-law, Ella Emhoff, also decided to reference her cultural heritage and invited Jewish designer Batsheva to create her own outfit for the occasion.
The decision to give minority artists a platform is therefore a powerful statement of pride in the part of their identity that is so often marginalised, and gives countless others like them the confidence to be proud too.
It’s also a valuable sign of legitimacy, says Annabelle Bayevu, whose sustainable African fashion brand WAA was recently worn by a prominent journalist in an interview with Vogue editor Edward Enninful. When someone like him wears your creations, people recognize you as a real company, she added.
Recognizing the impact that fashion choices can have is about understanding the diversity of political expression, as well as the subtle intelligence that goes into those choices.
Vice President Ella Emhoff’s son-in-law also chose to reference her cultural heritage (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
By dismissing fashion as insignificant, we downplay the immense skill, symbolism and economic impact of the fashion industry and ignore the conscious choices each woman makes to highlight her politics and draw attention to important issues.
Also, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s gold hoops and red lips at the swearing-in ceremony were a challenge to harmful stereotypes of Latin women, as she explained in her testimony: The next time someone tells the girls in the Bronx to take off their ties, they can just say they dress like members of Congress.
Wearing objects that are constantly used to discredit and humiliate people of color in a building and at a ceremony that embodies the American establishment could not be more political.
Her actions led to an immediate and widespread return of Latin women around the world in a way that even her policies could not allow.
Their actions have resulted in an immediate and significant payment to Hispanic women (Credit: AFP via Getty Images).
From the Bronx to North London, Latin women were encouraged to wear their culture with pride. Clothing has the unique ability to instantly change the narrative, and for women in power, its use can often be as important as the work they do.
The disguise of political power, when done well, can be far-reaching and sometimes change people’s lives.
For example, the Duchess of Sussex is known for the Megan effect as a platform for causes close to her heart.
Outland, a brand that supports victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia, reported a more than 2,000 percent increase in global sales after wearing jeans they designed for royalty.
The politics of fashion should not be underestimated, nor should the ability of powerful women to use it to their advantage.
With a simple ring, Amanda Gorman, the first-place winner, underscored a stark reminder of the ongoing racial strife in the United States. The caged bird ring Oprah gave her was a tribute to Maya Angelou, an icon of the civil rights movement.
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By referring to Angela, Gorman sent the important message that her presence as a young black woman was only made possible by those who had fought for her. This is another example of the deep meaning of fashion and its ability to strike where words fail.
Far from distracting attention from a woman’s actions, her clothes are so often the most important part, providing world-famous cultural symbols in a way that few can.
Read more: Mode
So no, reporting on what a politician is wearing is not automatically sexist and it’s just as lazy to blindly mark her down.
Being interested in the clothing of powerful women doesn’t make you any less of a feminist; on the contrary, it’s very likely that they have something to tell you.
Tiwa Adebayo writes about race, fashion and sports and you can follow her on Instagram here.
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