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It seems like several lifetimes ago that Michelle Obama shocked a public steeped in couture-clad First Ladies by rotating through a kaleidoscope of young designers—Thakoon and Jason Wu among them. In her Netflix documentary Becoming, Obama addresses the pressures that caused her to embrace clothing as part of her messaging. “Fashion for a woman still predominates how people view you, and that’s not fair, that’s not right. But it’s true,”she says. With her choices, Obama moved the needle, proving it’s possible to be a woman of substance and intelligence and still love style.
Now we have a vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, who wields fashion choices like weapons in her arsenal. There was her denim jacket of rainbow colors, worn to celebrate Pride in 2019, with symbolism so clear she needn’t have uttered a word. She signals she’s real with broken-in jeans and Converse sneakers in casual forums, but often tops them with armor—a dark tailored jacket of some sort. She’s paired jeans with an Hermès belt buckle, and donned beaded and studded jackets.She’s projected her interest in ease and speed by favoring sensible footwear and pants over skirts and dresses. The quality that unites all her choices: These are clothes of power—no frills, no fuss.
In 2020, female political leaders have become bona fide style icons, arguably more broadly influential than the Hollywood celebrities and supermodels who are paid to look good. Certainly, they appeal to a segment of consumers who are not moved to go shopping by Beyoncé’s red-carpet garb. With vivid color palettes, simple tailoring, and bold lip colors, women in politics are establishing a nontraditional power look that unabashedly embraces fashion—a realm once viewed as synonymous with a lack of seriousness. Here’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivering a lesson on sexism in a loose crimson blazer. There’s Stacey Abrams in a well-fitted coral jacket and softly draped tee (and natural hair!) explaining on MSNBC that her goals include letting people see her unapologetic ambition. These women are name-checking brands—who doesn’t know that…