It was a surreal scene with Joseph Biden being inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States in front of the US Capitol, which just two weeks ago was being defiled by a violent mob incited by the 45th president, who could not accept that he lost the election and instead spread lies to convince his unsuspecting followers that the election was stolen from him through false claims of election fraud.
National Guard troops numbering 25,000 may have secured the location, but the ghosts of marauding white supremacists in an uncivil war seemed to linger until the new president-elect and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, arrived with their families to reassure the select COVID-era crowd that all would be well in America with a new administration that respects the rule of law and good governance and upholds the tenets of democracy in the service of the American people.
It was an emotional moment for much of America and the world to see the triumph of the duo after a tumultuous campaign and victory that was challenged till the last minute.
This return to a sober, inclusive America after the last administration sowed hatred, bigotry, falsehood, and chaos was a welcome respite for the country and, though the new administration did not really want the occasion to be about fashion — what with the pandemic raging, claiming a record number of lives and upending the economy and people’s livelihood — their sartorial choices were significant in communicating a new sense of optimism. After the crassness of the Trump era, it was refreshing to have decency, civility and class.
Though the new administration did not really want the occasion to be about fashion, their sartorial choices were significant in communicating a new sense of optimism. After the crassness of the Trump era, it was refreshing to have decency, civility and class.
President Biden and the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, were reassuring in shades of blue, the color of serenity and stability. They opted for American designers, he in a bespoke Purple Label navy suit by Ralph Lauren and she in a custom-made aquamarine coat dress from the emerging New-York based label Markarian by Alexandra O’Neill.
In a nod to sustainability heralded by Biden’s recommitting to the Paris climate accord, she used a pair of repurposed hexagonal step-cut diamond earrings by Monique Péan.
Just like the first lady, Vice President Harris chose a little-known American designer, Christopher John Rogers, to help small businesses during this time of economic slowdown. Although known for bold colors and dramatic silhouettes, Rogers designed a sharply cut purple dress and coat that was just right for Harris’ minimalist aesthetic. She wore it with her signature pearls by the Puerto Rican jeweler Wilfredo Rosado.
The choice of purple is noteworthy because it’s bipartisan, a combination of blue (the color of Democrats) and red (the color of Republicans), which fits right in with the inauguration’s theme “America United.” It’s also one of the colors of The National Woman’s Party, the suffragist organization that wrote in a 1913 newsletter that it’s the color of “loyalty, constancy of purpose and unswerving steadfastness to a cause.”
How fitting then for the first woman, not to mention first black and first South Asian, to be elected as US Vice President to dress in this color as a symbol of the ultimate realization of the suffragist dream.
Other shades of purple surfaced, with former first lady Michelle Obama in a plum maxi coat over sweater and palazzo pants by Sergio Hudson, a stunning ensemble that did not disappoint her many fans who follow her fashion, which always prioritizes independent and ethnic American designers. Another former first lady, Hillary Clinton also wore purple with a grape pantsuit by Ralph Lauren.
For the performers, it was the colors of the American flag. Lady Gaga sang the national anthem in a ball gown with a voluminous red skirt from Schiaparelli by American designer Daniel Roseberry, who said that “as an American living in Paris, this ensemble is a love letter to the country I miss so dearly and to a performer whose artistry I have so long admired.” A gold brooch of a dove carrying an olive branch was worn in the hope that “we all make peace with each other,” according to Gaga.
Country singer Garth Brooks adopted the blue of the flag with his jeans as he sang Amazing Grace.
Jennifer Lopez completed the troika by wearing all-white (also a suffragist color) in head-to-toe Chanel (maxi coat, ruffled blouse, sequined palazzo pants, and pearl jewelry) as she sang a mash-up of the patriotic songs, This Land Is Your Land and America the Beautiful with the interjection of a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” in Spanish, as a tribute to her Hispanic-American community. For the finale of the evening show, Katy Perry wore a white Thom Browne gown with a flowing cape, long gloves and red and blue military-style buttons singing her hit "Firework" as fireworks filled the sky in celebration. The ensemble recalled an Audrey Hepburn 1957 Givenchy dress worn in Funny Face.
But the one who stole the show was Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet to date at 22 years old, who recited a most moving piece with a call for unity, “The Hill We Climb,” which she wrote for the event. A Harvard cum laude graduate, she was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. In her poem she said she was “descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” and “can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
She was a burst of sunshine in a bright yellow Prada coat and a red headband that she wore around her beehive hairdo looking like a halo. She wore the coat as a nod to Jill Biden, who had discovered her at a reading where she was also wearing yellow, which the first lady complimented. She was like an angel sent from the heavens to deliver a momentous message of hope: “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”