Why Many Congresswomen Wore White at Today's Swearing In Ceremony

The fashion choice has a historic significance.

House Of Representatives Convenes For First Session Of 2019 To Elect Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) As Speaker Of The House
(Image credit: Win McNamee)

The glass ceiling-shattering 116th class of Congress has been changing the game even before they were sworn in, and today, they proved that everything —yes, even fashion choices—can be a political statement.

Newly sworn in Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Madeleine Dean, and Ilhan Omar wore white ensembles to the ceremony this afternoon, and it's not just a rebellion against the No White After Labor Day rule—it's a reference to the long history of women’s suffrage. Why white? White is one of the official colors of the the women’s movement, along with green, gold and purple. In the early 1900s, the suffragettes wore white to attend marches.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

(Image credit: Bill Clark)

“White has connotations in the west of purity and virtue, this idea of being the good guy,” Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT in New York City, told The Guardian. “Certainly the suffragettes were aware of that when they wore white–they were good people too, why shouldn’t they have the right to vote?”

It's not the first time this has happened on the political stage, either: Hillary Clinton wore a white pantsuit when she accepted the 2016 Democratic nomination for president as well as in the third general election debate during her run. So did Geraldine Ferraro in her 1984 acceptance speech, as she became the first female vice president candidate for a major political party. Shirley Chisholm wore white in 1969 when she became the first Black woman elected to Congress. Several democratic congresswomen chose all white looks when Trump addressed congress in February 2017. “We want a visual reminder to him that suffragettes wore white and we are not going to let him take us backward," Rep. Linda Sánchez told the LA Times at the time. "We are not going to let men dictate the choices that we have in our lives. We are not going to stand for a president that doesn’t respect us and take our perspective into account.”

Today, Congress swore in a record number of women. Omar, of Minnesota, and Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan (whose sons dabbed as she cast her first vote for Speaker of the House, a whole 2019 mood) are the first Muslim women to serve. This freshman class also includes the first Native American women with Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico. Haaland wore traditional Pueblo dress for the swearing-in ceremony. Ayanna Pressley is Massachusetts' first black Congresswoman, and Abby Finkenauer is Iowa's first female member of Congress. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, at 29, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

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Amanda Mitchell

Amanda Mitchell is a writer and podcaster with bylines at Marie Claire, OprahMag, Allure, Byrdie, Stylecaster, Bon Appetit, and more. Her work exists at the apex of beauty, pop culture, and absurdity. A human Funfetti cake, she watches too much television, and her favorite season is awards season. You can read more of her work at amandaelizabethmitchell.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lochnessmanda.