The State of the Union address was watched by the nation on Feb. 5, but few viewers expected to witness the sea of white fabric donned by democratic women lawmakers at the event. This planned use of clothing as a socio-political statement was chosen by the women in order to honor the suffragette movement and highlight solidarity among female legislators.
This also serves to honor the record number of women now serving in Congress. For the first time, 89 female representatives are currently serving in the Democratic Party. This includes some of the youngest women to ever serve in Congress, as well as the first female Muslim and Native American representatives ever seen in this form of government.
Regardless, this increased representation of women still doesn’t make up one-fourth of the number of lawmakers on the Congressional board. Additionally, the permission to wear religious headwear in Congress was only granted in 2019, the first time in 181 years.
“Wearing suffragette white is a respectful message of solidarity with women across the country, and a declaration that we will not go back on our hard-earned rights,” explains Rep. Lois Frankel in an interview with CNN.
The Congresswomen wore white jackets, dresses, pantsuits, and more to signify the solidarity as members of the Democratic Party. Many posted on social media sites, noting the powerful display of white clothing signifies a variety of meanings, including women’s economic security, equality, and solidarity.
Using fashion to make a political statement has been picking up speed in recent years and in a variety of forms. While lawmakers wore white to the State of the Union address, many women and supporters of the #MeToo movement wore black to award shows. The #MeToo movement was also supported by Congresspeople in 2018 as well.
The choice to wear white, however, was made to honor the suffragettes who fought for women’s rights nearly a century ago. The women who fought for suffrage back then also wore white to symbolize purity.
“We have to accord women their power with what they are dressed with what mode of communications women’s fashion gives them,” notes Dr. Rhonda Garelick, a professor of fashion studies at the Parsons School of Design in NYC.
“It’s crucial not to reduce women to their appearance, that is all too easily and all too frequently done and a huge, sexist mistake. But that does not mean that we can’t acknowledge, appreciate and interpret fashion as part of their communications.”
It is through this subtle form of communication that highlights its importance. Long have women, in general, been scrutinized for their attire. This is in stark opposition to the men in Congress who generally wear the same nondescript, uniform look.
The number of fashion consumers is expected to increase to nearly 1.2 billion by next year, paving the way for new fashion — and political — statements.