By Vanessa Friedman
Around this time four years ago, a grassroots movement began on Facebook urging women to adopt a specific uniform as they went to the polls. And though #wearwhitetovote and #pantsuitnation were superficially about fashion, they were really about symbolism and female solidarity, about the precedent-changing candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the long line of feminists and suffragists that stretched out behind her.
Well, we all know how that election went.
Yet right on cue and just in time for growing ballot lines, another dress movement has emerged, one again focused on women, voting and empowerment. And social media.
#Ambitionsuitsyou urges women to wear a hot pink suit to demonstrate their own unapologetic strength of purpose.
The suit is the brainchild of Argent, a women’s workwear label started in 2016 to promote gender equality in the workplace through clothes — why, for example, should women be disadvantaged in meetings because they don’t have inside pockets in their suits? the founder, Sali Christeson, wondered — and Supermajority, the women’s rights advocacy group created by Cecile Richards, Alicia Garza and Ai-jen Poo. The campaign has been picking up steam since it was introduced during the vice-presidential debate and should reach its apogee on Election Day.
Thus far the suit has been adopted by a host of celebrities, who have unleashed a pink sea of selfies (with hashtag) on Instagram. Amy Schumer, Kerry Washington, Marisa Tomei and Zoë Saldana have posted photos of themselves in the suit, as have Paola Mendoza (a founder of the Women’s March) and Jamia Wilson (the director of the Feminist Press and soon-to-be executive editor of Random House).
Sophia Bush wore her suit while stumping for Biden-Harris; Holland Taylor wore hers to vote. Hillary Clinton lauded the initiative on her Instagram feed, writing, “Love these power pantsuits, and the powerful women wearing them.” Christeson said the suit sold out of what Argent had predicted was one to two months of inventory within the first 24 hours; it is now on back order.
You can understand the appeal. Emotions are running so high, hopes and fears so palpable, it seems a letdown, almost unpatriotic, to go neutral when you cast your ballot. Yet it is illegal in some states to wear any overt political paraphernalia to the polls: no buttons supporting your chosen candidate and no hats. (Yes, that means you, MAGA.) A suit in a specific color, however? No one can forbid that.
Although nominally the hot pink suit is nonpartisan, the history of President Donald Trump’s remarks about women, the party-drawn battle lines over a woman’s right to choose and the fate of Roe v. Wade, and the fact that Sen. Kamala Harris has directly addressed the subject of female ambition (and has worn Argent, though not the pink suit) suggest that the style may be seen as a rebuke to the status quo.
(Indeed, when Savannah Guthrie wore a hot pink suit to moderate the NBC town hall with Trump, social media went into a frenzy trying to figure out if it was, in fact, the Argent suit and hence a secret clapback to her guest. It turned out, to be a different label.)
After all, the reclamation of pink as a power color also took off about four years ago, thanks to the first Woman’s March with its pink pussy hats. They brightly, craftily, transformed a shade historically associated with fragility and sweetness — the blushing bride, a baby’s shell-pink ear, the “rosy-fingered Dawn” — and often deployed to diminish women. There’s a reason that when Elsa Schiaparelli decided to make an in-your-face pink her signature, she named it “shocking.”
Nancy Pelosi adopted the same tactics when she wore a hot pink dress to her swearing-in as speaker of the House in 2019, standing out like a beacon of femininity amid the men in their dark suits. The Fashion Institute of Technology recognized the shift with an entire exhibition devoted to the color and its myriad messages in 2018.
“The thesis is, ‘I’m going to show up, and you are going to see me,’” Christeson said.
That is, unquestionably, a worthy idea. The intention is good. And increasingly color blocs have become popular forms of protest, be it the yellow vests in France, the wall of moms in yellow or the antifa in black. They are ways to convey a message without a message tee.
Unlike those movements, however, and unlike the last time clothing became part of election semiology, when it emerged organically from the cultural moment, the pink suit has a commercial tinge. The color had not transcended the form. And that’s where things get tricky.
Most people don’t have a hot pink suit in their wardrobe. And buying a suit, unlike buying a T-shirt or a mask, involves real expense. Together, the Argent jacket and trousers would cost you $400.
And even though Christeson says the look is priced to be accessible, and even though 10% of sales goes toward funding Supermajority, asking women to shell out that amount of money to advertise their empowerment at a time of real economic uncertainty seems — well, unseemly. Especially because, according to Christeson, the activists and politicians got their pink suits on loan, and those celebrity participants got their suits for free.
For everyone else, the cost risks linking ambition with privilege, when the point is supposed to be the opposite. It takes meaning, and makes it look a whole lot like marketing. Declaring allegiance to civic action may come with a price. But should it be this one?
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