Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama: Why Everyone Wore Purple to Biden's Inauguration

Jashodhara Mukherjee
·4-min read

Purple, albeit different hues of it, was the colour of the Biden-Harris inauguration on January 20.

On Wednesday, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris scripted history in one of the most-eagerly watched inauguration of United States President and Vice-President. However, there was one thing that stood out - purple seemed to be the theme of the event. Many including Vice President Harris, former first lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton chose to wear purple for the event.

Turns out, it was not really a coincidence.

For long, purple has been the colour of bipartisanship. Literally speaking, you get purple if you mix red and blue, the two colours that represent the two parties in the United States - Republicans and Democrats. Harris' colour choice could then be considered symbolic as if hinting at unity between the two parties and in the nation as a whole. And unity was indeed one of the key themes in President Biden's inaugural speech.

This was pointed out by many on Twitter:

Hillary Clinton confirmed the theory that had been doing the rounds on the internet. According to USA Today, Clinton said at the inauguration ceremony, "I did wear purple with a purpose because I knew the theme that President Biden was striking was unity. I thought as you combine red and blue, the way that we are divided politically in our country, you get purple." She added that she wanted her dress to symbolise unity.

The colour purple is also a nod to Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman to run for US President as part of the Democratic party. She was also the first black woman elected to the US Congress. Chisholm frequently used purple in her campaigns. According to CNN, that is one of the reasons why the colour is close to Harris. In fact, the Vice President had used the colours yellow and purple as a predominant theme while campaigning.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The colour purple also symbolises the women's suffragette movement.

For the unaware, the suffrage movement (which was gaining momentum around the world in the early 20th century) was a fight to win the right to vote for women living in the United States. In the 1800s, the right to vote had been extended to all white men - while women were not allowed to vote.

The suffrage movement for the franchise lasted for decades. It took activists, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, around a 100 years to win the right. According to History.com, the amendment to the American Constitution was finally ratified on August 18, 1920. This allowed all women living in the United States the right to vote, just like their male counterparts.

The suffrage movement, both in Europe and America, relied on colours to convey a message. The Women’s Social and Political Union in England adopted purple, white and green as their colours. According to them, purple signified royalty and "the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity."

In the US, the women adopted purple, white and gold. For them, “Purple was the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause," according to research.

Hence it is only fitting that Harris, the first woman, Black and Indian-American vice president of the United States, should honour the movement with the colour the activists adopted. This is not the first time Harris has paid a subtle tribute to the suffrage movement. For her victory speech last year, after she was declared the Vice President-elect, Harris wore a symbolic white suit. Harris' outfit - a white suit reportedly by Carolina Herrera - became the talk of the town after she took the stage for her victory speech after being declared the Vice President of the United States. It was also a tribute to the women’s suffragette movement.