Michelle Obama was only one of the women who chose to wear purple, a color that not only nods to bipartisanship (red plus blue) but to the early days of the suffrage movement. Hillary Clinton wore an eggplant-colored, ruffled pantsuit from Ralph Lauren, while Vice-President Kamala Harris took her oath wearing a swishy royal-purple dress-and-coat ensemble from the twenty-seven-year-old queer, Black, New-York-based designer Christopher John Rogers, who is best known for his voluminous, holographic silk creations that drape across the body in playful proportions. Jill Biden also went with a relatively unknown New York designer, Alexandra O’Neill, who launched her line, Markarian, out of her Greenwich Village apartment, in 2017. On Wednesday afternoon I spoke to O’Neill, who told me that, though Dr. Biden’s team (led by the stylist Bailey Moon) reached out in December about creating an outfit for the new First Lady, she had no idea until Inauguration Day that Biden had selected her look to wear. O’Neill said that the Prussian-blue dress with matching coat took three weeks to make, and that she hand-embellished the neckline and the coat herself with hundreds of Swarovski crystals. In an official release, O’Neill explained that she and Dr. Biden’s team agreed on the color blue “for the pieces to signify trust, confidence, and stability.”
There was a seamlessness to the day’s aesthetic, a kind of pre-planned choreography that seemed to telegraph that all parties involved had received the memo; besides a prevailing message of unity, logistics and coördination—the low-humming engines that can make or break Administrations—were the real stars of the show. The event’s musical performers—Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks—came out one after the other in red (Gaga, in a Schiaparelli Couture gown and a giant “dove of peace” brooch), white (J. Lo. in a full Chanel getup), and blue (Brooks, in the classic Oklahoma uniform of jeans and a hammered silver belt). Both President Biden and Doug Emhoff, our first Second Gentleman, wore Ralph Lauren suits. The effect was purposeful, collaborative, and coherent—we are not used to seeing political figures working together on something as simple and soothing as color blocking.
And then there were the small flashes of forward-thinking style onstage, mostly from the youngest attendees. There was the twenty-two-year old National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, looking like a sunbeam in a lemon-yellow Prada coat with a red satin Prada headband that formed a halo around her face, a clever nod to Jackie Kennedy’s favored Oleg Cassini pillbox hats. (Gorman said she wore the sunny coat as a wink to Jill Biden, who invited her to speak at the Inauguration after seeing a video of Gorman reading her work in a yellow dress.) There was Nikolas Ajagu, Kamala Harris’s nephew-in-law, in a pair of Dior 1 sneakers, and Maisy Biden, President Biden’s granddaughter, in a pair of Air Jordan 1 Mid Sisterhoods. (The Vice-President, a well-documented sneaker fan, wore Manolo Blahniks.) There was Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, in a shimmery teal Ulla Johnson dress with a green Coach shearling jacket and silver stiletto boots, looking like a rugged mermaid on her way to a disco. And, most memorably, there was Kamala Harris’s twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, who is studying textile design at Parsons and whose Instagram has become a zany showcase for her raver-meets-cottage core sense of style. For the Inauguration, Emhoff wore a bejewelled plaid coat with a crisp Johnny collar from Miu Miu, a high-fashion label that feels deeply art school in its references. (I imagine we will see several TikToks instructing D.I.Y. enthusiasts on how to bedazzle their own knockoffs by week’s end.)
Though Sanders and his grandfatherly mittens were the dominant meme of the day, a GIF of Ella Emhoff, wagging her eyebrows as the Pences made their arrival, may prove to be the more lasting image of the moment. Decked out in gemstones, Emhoff dared to be silly, to chance a bit of impish lightness. It felt like a gesture, if not so much of hope, then at least of buoyancy. As for the former Vice-President, he and his wife both wore solemn, solid black. It was as if they were attending a funeral, or at least a far different kind of party than everyone else. Which, in a way, they were.