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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Explained: The history and significance of the pantsuit worn by US Vice-President elect Kamala Harris

The white pantsuit fitted with a pussy-bow looks back at years of women’s struggle for equal rights –– and many believe also cocks a snook at outgoing President Donald Trump's now infamous line about women.

Written by Ektaa Malik , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 10, 2020 9:16:30 am
Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris white pantsuit, Kamala Harris pussy bow, suffragette suit, Kamala Harris pantsuit designer, fashion and politics, express explained, indian expressVice President-elect Kamala Harris arrives to speak November 7, 2020, in Wilmington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Making history by becoming the first ever woman, the first ever south-Asian and the first ever person of colour to be elected the US Vice-President, when Kamala Harris took to stage in Delaware on November 8, it wasn’t just her victory speech that made headlines — as she said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last” — but also her outfit.

Harris had opted for a white pantsuit fitted with a pussy-bow or the women’s necktie. The significance of the outfit was not lost on the many who have followed political upheavals in the US. We explain the many layers of Harris’s chosen outfit.

A Tribute

Harris wore an ivory white pantsuit and a satin blouse that was embellished with a pussy-bow. The suit was by Carolina Herrera, an American luxury brand founded by a Venezuelan immigrant. It’s little surprise that Harris chose Herrera, as she is a child of immigrants, an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.

The white pantsuit is often dubbed the suffragette suit. Its history can be traced to Geraldine Ferraro, the first ever woman to run for vice-presidentship in the US. Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, also wore white pantsuits during her presidential campaign in 2016.

Earlier this year, in February, women democrats in the House wore white to mark a century of women being allowed to vote. In her speech, Harris stated, “All the women who worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century: One hundred years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act, and now, in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard. Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision — to see what can be unburdened by what has been — I stand on their shoulders.”

Also Read | After historic win, Kamala Harris delivered acceptance speech in a suffragette white suit; see pics

The Women Necktie

The lone piece of embellishment on Harris’s outfit was the pussycat-bow on the ivory white satin blouse. Called lavallière, the female equivalent of the necktie was used by women when they started entering the workforce in the 19th century. Its origins can be traced to France and it was designed to look similar to the male cravat. It had drooping ends and a large knot. The name stems from Duchess of La Vallière, the mistress of Louis XIV.

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made it her go-to accessory, saying, “bows were rather softening and pretty”. The trend was copied and carried by many women politicians after Thatcher. Designer Coco Chanel is often credited for having made neckties more female friendly, through the pussycat bow.

French designer Yves Saint Laurent rejigged the tuxedo for women, calling it the ‘le smoking suit’. In the late seventies, actor and human rights advocate Bianca Jagger was often seen in power suits and neckties. The film Working Girl, featuring Melanie Griffith, tells the story of her rise from a humble secretary to someone with power and an office — she wears a pussycat-bow as she reaps the rewards of her hardwork.

Princess Diana also wore a pussycat bow blouse on her engagement to Prince Charles. Designer labels Gucci, YSl and Haider Ackerman, among others, featured the pussycat bow in their collections. Celebrities like Amal Clooney, Tracee Ellis Ross and Keri Russell have worn it to important functions. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Double Entendre

History and design aside, the pussycat bow blouse worn by Harris was also seen by many as an assertion against the outgoing US president Trump. In 2016, during the presidential campaign, a video from 2005 had surfaced were President Trump was seen making a now very infamous statement, “grab’em by the pussy’. Two days later, Melania Trump was seen wearing a pink Gucci pussycat blouse, which many saw was a slight towards her husband.

In 2018, Melania again wore a pussycat blouse when she was discussing cyberbullying. Many termed it as her trolling her own husband. Harris’s choice of the pussycat bow is being seen as a “reappropriation” of the clothing accessory.

Style of Relatibility  

Harris has been praised for having a style that’s relatable for the public at large — whether it is her Converse shoes paired with suits for the election campaign or her chosen accessory of a string of white pearls. The string of pearls has been with her since 1968, when she graduated from Howard University. It was gifted to her by first ever black-Greek sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, which Harris was a member of.

Meanwhile, in another video, Harris is heard talking to President-elect Joe Biden, with her wearing Nike leggings and a running vest — relatable attire to an average citizen of America. A dedicated website,, documents each outfit worn by the Democrat.

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