Kamala Harris’ style is power dressing for a new generation

During Wednesday’s inauguration, Kamala Harris will become the first woman vice president of the United States — not to mention the first person of color to hold that office. But her fans can’t help but wonder: What will she wear for this historic moment?

“I am so curious about her outfit,” said Vittoria Vignone, a museum professional who chronicles Harris’ get-ups on her blog Kamala’s Closet. “Is she going to do any sort of nod to her upbringing by wearing something by an Indian designer or a Black designer? Is she going to wear a designer she’s used in the past, like Altuzarra or Michael Kors, or someone out of left field?”

She is predicting a few sartorial details, however: Harris will choose an American designer and she’ll probably wear something tailored and with minimal fuss. And she will look great.

Ever since Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced the California senator as his running mate last August, Harris has emerged as a fashion icon, thanks to her no-nonsense campaign wardrobe, which often featured sharp blazers, skinny pants, pearls and — most notably — her signature Converse sneakers (aka Chuck Taylors). 

That uniform, at once professionally put-together and confidently casual, has given her the kind of fashion following usually reserved for First Ladies or royalty. 

Harris in a suffragette white suit by Carolina Herrera at the Biden/Harris victory event in November 2020.
Harris in a suffragette white suit by Carolina Herrera at the Biden/Harris victory event in November 2020.

Getty Images

At one campaign event, according to the Washington Post, a young artist performed an original song about Harris’ beloved Chuck Taylors and “the importance of being confident in one’s personal style.” At least two thorough Kamala Harris style blogs — Kamala’s Closet and What Kamala Wore — have launched in recent months, dissecting the politician’s every look, from the mundane (an Eddie Bauer puffer coat worn while volunteering at DC food nonprofit Martha’s Table) to the magnificent (the white Carolina Herrera suit she wore for her and Biden’s presidential victory speeches in November). And both ELLE and Vogue agreed to let the politician pose in her own threads for their covers, implying that even their stylists couldn’t style Harris better than Harris herself.

Meanwhile, Beyonce’s mother Tina Knowles implored her Instagram followers to join her in dressing like the VP-Elect on Inauguration Day. “Jeans, blazer, converse tennis shoes, pearls,” she wrote. “I think it’s a great idea!”

Harris wears a rainbow jacket at San Francisco's Pride parade in June 2019.
Harris wears a rainbow jacket at San Francisco’s Pride parade in June 2019.
Hearst Newspapers via Getty Imag

“I think there’s a lot of conviction behind her, and it comes through her fashion in a really subtle way that just complements everything else that she’s doing,” Vignone said. “She’s a breath of fresh air.”

Harris’ sartorial influences hark back to her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority days at Howard University. On Fridays there, she wrote in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,”  she and her friends would “dress up in our best clothes and peacock around the yard.” Her omnipresent pearls are a nod to her sorority, too — AKA’s original founders were known as the 20 Pearls.

Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff attend a COVID-19 Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2021.
Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff attend a COVID-19 Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

As a lawyer in San Francisco, she hit on her signature style. She amassed a collection of sharp blazers in neutral tones, Manolo Blahnik heels and unexpected accessories (such as boldly patterned scarves, colorful Converse or the jangly bangles she wears alongside a Cartier watch). 

“Her style is understated, tailored, elegant, businesslike, with a touch of whimsy,” said Susan E. Kelley, who runs the blog What Kamala Wore. “The clothes don’t wear her; she wears the clothes.” 

That professional polish mixed with West Coast nonchalance signals a new way of dressing for the corridors of power.

“Women of the earlier generation — like Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi — wore suits that were almost like, you tried to take a dress and make it into a business suit,” said DC-based image consultant Christina Logothetis. “That’s where that concept of the candy-colored pantsuit came from. It’s a very Boomer way of dressing. Gen X women like Kamala Harris don’t do that as much. It’s just sort of like, no if I’m going to wear a suit, I’m gonna wear a suit in a suit color.”

Because she rarely uses fashion to make an obvious point — she largely eschews the usual red, white and blue accents politicians generally employ to drive home their patriotism, for instance — when she does speak with her clothes, it packs a punch. “By and large, they’re the backdrop, unless it’s like the victory speech in Wilmington,” where Harris wore suffragette white, “or the Pride Parade,” in San Francisco, where she wore a rainbow sequin Levi’s jacket. “They can be an accent mark, they can be the exclamation point at the end of the sentence, but they’re never going to be the sentence.”

Kamala Harris wore these $13 socks during an appearance on her niece’s TikTok.
Kamala Harris wore these $13 socks during an appearance on her niece’s TikTok.

However, Harris has stepped up her style choices lately, wearing young American designers for high-profile appearances (such as Joseph Altuzarra and Prabal Gurung), embracing a bit more color (like plum) and even — rumor has it — enlisting Hollywood stylist Karla Welch, who has worked with Justin Bieber and Tracee Ellis Ross, to help with her wardrobe.

She’s even setting trends. “I even have seen a trickle down effect,” said Vignone. “Someone I follow who always wears heels recently said she bought her first pair of Converse. My sister just bought her first blazer. And I’ve seen certain items that are less expensive sell out” — like a pair of $13 socks Harris wore on her niece’s TikTok that bear the slogan “the future is female” on the calf — which Vignone promptly bought for herself. “I hope they get here in time, so I can wear them while watching the inauguration.”

Yet Parsons fashion professor Hazel Clark hopes Harris doesn’t take on too many trends.

“I think obviously women in the public eye get so much scrutiny, and she has managed to dress in a way that lets her be taken seriously and also be true to herself,” Clark said. “She shows that you don’t have to be a slave for fashion and be stylish. You can be you and be on the cover of Vogue. I think that is inspiring.”