US Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris has reportedly made the February cover of iconic fashion magazine Vogue. Seemingly one of the highest feats in the world of style, this ordinance doesn’t come without baggage. As have all covers in the past, Harris’ has drawn reaction as well. When news of her Vogue appearance came to light, social media users lost no time to point out that a politician – the incoming Vice President of the United States no less – had no business being on a fashion cover. Some others took the route of slamming the publication itself, calling it out for allegedly white-washing the Black-Indian-American politician’s skin tone. You can read more on that here.
In the context of Harris, who sported sleek pantsuits paired with comfortable sneakers for the duration of her election campaign trail last year, fashion isn’t an entirely new subject. For her suave, crisp styling choices that fall both in categories of power-dressing and comfortable fashion, ‘Madam Vice President’ has been complimented the world over. So clearly, the significance of her sartorial persona isn’t an entirely novel discourse. What then forms the basis of the debate around her Vogue cover? Why is the audience irked by a politician’s presence on one of the mainstays of the fashion industry? Moreover, did the fashion magazine itself do enough justice to Harris’ style on the cover?
Folks who don't get why the Vogue cover of VP-elect Kamala Harris is bad are missing the point. The pic itself isn't terrible as a pic. It's just far, far below the standards of Vogue. They didn't put thought into it. Like homework finished the morning it's due. Disrespectful.
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) January 10, 2021
Politicians On Fashion Covers: Is It Unbecoming?
One of the chief arguments leading the discussion around Harris’ Vogue cover is that dipping her feet into the affectations of the fashion industry endangers the sobriety that is becoming of a leading state head. Moreover, one who has been elected. As I see it, anyone the public votes to power instantly becomes a public figure. And a public figure is always seen as something more than their profession. Every politician – including Harris and those before her – has been scrutinised head-to-toe, inside-out, from every angle outside the purview of politics. So if the public itself breaks the ‘sanctity’ of a professional’s sobriety in politics, is it really a problem if the professional herself partakes in it later?
Harris, by no measure, is the first person in politics to feature on an entertainment or fashion magazine cover. Former US President Barack Obama appeared on the cover of InStyle in 2020. His wife, Michelle Obama (who wasn’t a politician but nonetheless was thick in the middle of it) has graced the covers of many fashion and women’s magazines in the past. Including Vogue. Several times. Justin Trudeau has appeared on GQ. Recently, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez too featured on the cover of Vanity Fair.
— Tyler Mitchell (@Tyler_Mitchell_) October 28, 2020
Does a politician then really have to restrict themselves within the four corners of serious politics in order to hold command over people? If the public if already viewing them through multi-tinted glasses, then why the double standards of barring them from venturing into something outside of politics? Do we need that facade, as long as the elected leader is fulfilling their administerial role with due diligence?
What Are The Arguments Against Kamala Harris’ Fashion Mag Cover?
Another, perhaps more valid, point of contention around the cover is that it apparently seems to have downplayed Harris’ now-renowned style. As a woman in politics, she has defied the norms of mainstream ‘femininity,’ by choosing comfortable fashion over luxe, dainty outfits. Being a woman of colour and many descents on one of the highest seats in what is (arguably) the most powerful country, Harris had already set the benchmark high on what women today are capable of achieving. Add to that her accessible (but graceful) fashion sense, and it gave a message to little girls everywhere that no dream is too big. If Kamala Harris can do it, so can you.
Here’s 4 images of Kamala Harris that I had *saved in my phone* that are better than that Vogue cover.
I’d say something about how women who exude power in ways that aren’t traditionally read as “feminine” get played in the media, and that’s true. But also Tops Deserve Better!! pic.twitter.com/L3Q8fE1dYh
— Carmen Phillips (@carmencitaloves) January 10, 2021
Upon that background, displaying Harris in a bland outfit (I would say ill-fitted even) and almost-too-basic couture in a bid to capture her sense of style is seeming careless to some. Wasn’t this the same publication whose Harry Styles’ dress cover last year collectively shattered many standards of toxic male masculinity?
The random pink satin strewn in the background too is contributing heavily to the idea that people at Vogue didn’t put much effort into making a cover featuring US’ first woman VP a landmark one. In comparison, Obama’s Vogue covers, though despicably airbrushed, have always exuded more magnetism. Primarily, I would say, because the design was sole-focused, saying loud and clear that she was the woman-of-the-moment.
oh dear… pic.twitter.com/1WfTrRzcUf
— Tanvi Akhauri (@akhauri_) January 10, 2021
And if that wasn’t enough, a journalist has pointed out that this cover being circulated wasn’t even what Harris’ team agreed upon. For all this and more, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and her team is drawing flak. As it probably should.
2. In the cover that they expected, Vice President-elect Harris was wearing a powder blue suit. That was the cover that the Vice President-elect's team and the Vogue team, including Anna Wintour, mutually agreed upon…which is standard for fashion magazines.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 10, 2021
There’s no reason politicians making waves in fashion must be stigmatised or viewed as something less than their counterparts, as long as professional duty isn’t sidelined. And as far as the question of such public appearances promoting narcissism is concerned, well… we can all agree that that is largely the domain of male politicians.
Views expressed are the author’s own.