Keeping up with Kamala

Updated: 14 November, 2020 08:04 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

The VP-elect's journey has been inspirational for many. But her style is, too- for this American journalist who is chronicling it with a dedicated website

Kamala Harris wore a white pantsuit by Carolina Herrera, a tribute to the women's Suffrage movement, during her first post-election speech in Delaware. PIC/AFP
Kamala Harris wore a white pantsuit by Carolina Herrera, a tribute to the women's Suffrage movement, during her first post-election speech in Delaware. PIC/AFP

Khadi, a fabric championed by Mahatma Gandhi during India's Independence movement, found its way to Issey Miyake's showrooms in the 1980s. In 1994, when Princess Diana stepped out in an off-the-shoulder black silk dress, on the same night her husband admitted to an affair, it was dubbed the "revenge dress." And more recently, when Vice President-elect of the United States, Kamala Harris, took the stage for her first post-election speech in Delaware in a white pantsuit, it was instantly recognised as a nod to the decades-long women's suffrage movement.

Politics and fashion do not exist in silos. Fashion is political and politicians, well, do not go out of fashion.

Susan E Kelley, a US-based journalist, with over 17 years of experience in broadcasting, founded the blog What Kate Wore in 2011 to document the Duchess' style. Since then, the page has had over 80 million views. Then, in August when Joe Biden picked Harris to be his VP, she decided to launch What Kamala Wore. In an email interview from Michigan, Kelley tells us that "the opportunity to follow the style of an extraordinary woman making history was very appealing, particularly at this moment in time."

Having learnt about the then-Senator during the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination in 2018, Kelley keenly followed Harris' presidential campaign during the summer and began thinking about a website dedicated to her style. The blogger chronicles what Harris wears from head to toe — the pantsuits, pearls, and Chuck Taylors.

Harris has been wearing pearls for 35 years; her framed mabé pearl earrings, pictured here in 2004, have been a style staple. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
Harris has been wearing pearls for 35 years; her framed mabé pearl earrings, pictured here in 2004, have been a style staple. PIC/GETTY IMAGES

Kelley is modest when she says that her process isn't "very elaborate." She follows the VP-elect's schedule and then gathers photos once she makes an appearance. "She has a go-to look for most engagements: a tailored pantsuit or separates, with a structured jacket and trousers, solid colour pumps in varying heel heights, and understated jewellery. Harris wears some of her favourite pieces repeatedly, like a pair of mabé pearl earrings that go back years. Some items date back to her days as California's Attorney General. I am not yet well-versed in all of the different designers she wears and I'm trying to educate myself as rapidly as possible," she confesses.

The website's look has been created by Susan Courter, the founder of What Meghan Wore, which looks at Meghan Markle's style. It also has thumbnail photos arranged chronologically to provide a visual record of what Harris has worn. "Some pieces are relatively easy to identify: an Hermès scarf, a Loro Piana jacket, a Marco Bicego necklace and earring set. Other pieces are much more challenging to identify, like her suits."

Kelley plans to make the website more robust with additional information and photographs, but maintains that it is not a platform for political debate. "I believe that we can discuss an ensemble's elements without delving deeply into politics," she asserts. A good example of that, she adds, is the post on the white Carolina Herrera pantsuit, covering the basics of what Harris wore, including a brief backgrounder on the origins of suffragist white.

Susan E Kelley
Susan E Kelley

"I don't discuss the obvious: that voting needs to be open and accessible to all who are eligible. Harris's suit makes its own statement. Our primary purpose is chronicling what Harris wore; by the very nature of her work, we will intersect with things like the suffragist movement, and reference them when applicable," she states.

Kelley views Harris as being comfortable in her clothes and someone who understands that it is a tool that can send a message, but it's not a big part of who she is, what she has accomplished or what she plans to. Her style, Kelley notes, "is authentic and approachable and similar to what millions of women wear in corporate environments every day: tailored, structured designs with understated jewellery. Harris makes it her own with the addition of pieces like her Chuck Taylors. She stays with a look that works for her; she isn't driven by the latest trends or hottest runway creations. Whatever she is doing, be it on Capitol Hill or on the campaign trail, she is there with a purpose, and it is not to be a clotheshorse."

Harris donning the Hermès Kawa Ora shawl. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
Harris donning the Hermès Kawa Ora shawl. PIC/GETTY IMAGES

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First Published: 14 November, 2020 08:00 IST

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