Inauguration fashion was bold, American, and even a little bit fun

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Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris, Jill Biden, and Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the east front of the Capitol on Inauguration Day. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Biden wore Ralph Lauren, while Kamala Harris’s ensemble featured work from two young Black designers.

The nation’s attention turned again to Washington, DC, as Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States. The occasion has been rife with symbolism so far, as the incoming first and second families seek to usher in a period of healing. “To heal, we must remember,” Biden said Tuesday night during a memorial for Covid-19 victims. “It’s hard. But that’s how we heal.”

The inauguration is not just an ideological dawn for America; the Biden administration intends to signal a stylistic shift with this official appearance. The transference of image and power is showcased through Biden’s and Harris’s sartorial decisions.

While fashion choice won’t divine the new administration’s policy goals, it is a subtle avenue into the first and second families’ mindset and how they hope to be perceived by the American public as the latest cast of Washington characters. As of January 20, the Trump brand, its brash Gilded Age aesthetics, and its tendency toward fascistic imagery are outdated, politics aside.

President-elect Joe Biden arrives with his wife Dr. Jill Biden for his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images
Joe Biden and Jill Biden.
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff.Rob Carr/Getty Images
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff.

Biden, with his 36 years as a senator and eight as vice president, wore a navy blue suit from Ralph Lauren, a classic, all-American design label. The brand’s namesake and former designer held humble roots from the Bronx, but the label and logo (of the ultra-elite horseback sport of polo) carries a preppy, patriotic vibe. Biden seems to have a penchant for the brand, having twice worn a black Ralph Lauren polo to receive his Covid-19 vaccine doses.

Meanwhile, the first lady wore an ocean blue coat and dress set from Markarian, the design label of upcoming New York luxury designer Alexandra O’Neill. According to a designer press release, blue was Jill Biden’s chosen color “to signify trust, confidence, and stability.” The wool-and-tweed ensemble is a sleek, fitted look, complete with blue leather gloves and a mask of the same material.

The image of the first female vice president will go down in the history books, and Kamala Harris, no doubt, is aware of the impression she and her inauguration outfit will have. She was accompanied by her husband, Doug Emhoff, who was also wearing Ralph Lauren as the nation’s first second gentleman.

Harris wore her signature pearls, a royal purple set by Christopher John Rogers, and shoes by Sergio Hudson. She appears committed to elevating young Black designers during her tenure, much like former first lady Michelle Obama. Last night at the Lincoln Memorial, Harris donned a camel coat by the label Pyer Moss. The brand was founded by designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, the son of Haitian immigrants, who turned his studio into a donation center for personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

Harris’s Inauguration Day outfit is full of symbolic resonance: The string of pearls appears to be a reference to her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The pearls and her outfit’s shade of purple — which was present in the logo for her 2020 bid — may also be a nod to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, who ran for president in 1972.

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Barack and Michelle Obama.
Bill and Hillary Clinton.AFP via Getty Images
Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Besides the impeccably dressed first and second families, there are a host of other Washington figures, both new and old, that inauguration viewers had their eyes on. Michelle Obama arrived in a floor-length burgundy coat ensemble by Sergio Hudson, who also designed Harris’s outfit. Hillary Clinton also made an appearance in a Ralph Lauren suit of the same royal purple shade.

Poet laureate Amanda Gorman delivered her original poem, “The Hill We Climb,” in a red headband and yellow coat by Miuccia Prada, a designer Gorman has said she personally admires for her feminist advocacy and intellect. The 22-year-old told Vogue the yellow is a nod to Jill Biden, who originally recommended her to speak at the inauguration. Gorman also wore earrings and a ring of a caged bird that were gifts by Oprah. And Lady Gaga sang the national anthem in a custom-made Schiaparelli dress, which featured a golden dove carrying an olive branch across her chest.

National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman.Win McNamee/Getty Images
National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman.
 Alex Wong/Getty Images
Lady Gaga is escorted to the inauguration.

Social media users were intrigued by the younger members of the first and second families. Biden’s granddaughters wore chic monochromatic outfits with matching masks in individual shades of white, tan, pink, and black; Naomi, the eldest of the bunch at 27, wore white, a color associated with the suffragette movement.

Ella Emhoff, Harris’s stepdaughter, was jokingly christened “the first daughter of Bushwick,” given her artistic flair. Emhoff, per her Instagram Stories, wore Batsheva under a sparkle-adorned tweed coat from Miu Miu. Inauguration is a momentous event for designers chosen to dress the attendees, but, interestingly enough, it’s the sartorial quirks that people are choosing to fixate on.

Cole Emhoff and Ella Emhoff, the stepchildren of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Cole Emhoff and Ella Emhoff, the stepchildren of Kamala Harris.

Two pairs of Jordans were worn at the ceremony: Nikolas Ajagu, the husband of Meena Harris, was in Dior Air Jordan 1s, and Maisy Biden had on the Jordan 1 Mid Sisterhood. It was a big afternoon for pea coats, and there was nary a puffer in sight among attendees. Meena Harris’s two young daughters were decked out in leopard-print fur coats, and swaddled in inauguration-branded blankets.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, known for his gruff grandpa-like appeal, was spotted wearing mittens made by a Vermont schoolteacher, which were gifted to him two years ago. They are made from repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece made from recycled plastic bottles. The image of the senator sitting, arms crossed, in an olive winter jacket and a blue surgical mask is reflective of Sanders’s persona: alone and unbothered, without a care for the glitzy Washington aesthetic around him. The jacket from Vermont-based company Burton, and is the same one from Sanders’s infamous “I Am Once Again Asking” campaign video that became a meme of the 2020 campaign.

Internet denizens also noticed Treasury Secretary-designate Janet Yellen, who cozied up in a black puffer with a blue blanket draped over her legs. Some joked that she resembled a cold grandma attending a soccer game, or a New Yorker trying to enjoy outdoor dining in the winter. While Yellen and Sanders aren’t necessarily in show-stopping looks, we have to applaud their practicality: The temperature was in the low 40s in Washington, DC, with no heat lamps in sight.