The Lessons of the Women in White at the State of the Union Address

For anybody who has ever thought that the use of clothes as a political instrument was frivolous or overstated, or groaned at one more piece insisting lady in a white pantsuit was making a press release, there was no higher riposte than the State of the Union tackle on Tuesday night time.

When the tv cameras got here up on the buzzing House chamber as Congress awaited President Trump’s entrance, the most placing sight was not the grandeur of the room (although it’s fairly grand) or the nerves and pleasure of the particular visitors, however fairly the unmistakable block of Congresswomen virtually aglow in white on the Democratic facet of the aisle.

They had been sporting white shirts (Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas) and white capes (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York). Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota paired her white jumpsuit with a blue head scarf and crimson shirt — a press release of patriotism as clear as the Trump-Pence red-tie-blue-tie-white-shirt twofer), and plenty of, many white jackets and fits, together with on Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House. And there was no way that either the president or the viewing public could miss them or miss the message in what they wore: one of gender equality and pride, the long arc of history and the fight for women’s rights, commitment to an agenda and, in the background, joy. It was in front of him, when he looked out upon the room, and in back, as Ms. Pelosi wielded her gavel.

The women had announced their plans on Tuesday afternoon, with Representative Lois Frankel of Florida tweeting: “At State of the Union tonight, @realDonaldTrump will look out at the House Chamber and see a sea of #Suffragette white sending the message loud&clear that @HouseDemWomen are fighting for the economic security of women & families.”

But knowing it was planned and seeing the effects were not the same thing. As a piece of political theater, the white was strikingly effective.

On a night when the role of the audience in the chamber was to listen and, maybe, stand and applaud (or sit and look disappointed), the women still managed to make themselves heard. And on a night when Mr. Trump used a series of guests in the balcony as symbols, they offered a powerful symbol of their own.

It made for a powerful contrast with the tightly belted quasi-military black skirt suit of Ivanka Trump and the sharply buttoned-up black Burberry trench dress with big silver buttons worn by Melania Trump, the first lady, who also wore black leather gloves, a reported nod to decorum that seemed vaguely sinister. (Not to mention the section in the president’s speech about the danger lurking at the border, with its dire overtones.) Or with the camouflaging beards that both Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have sprouted.

The island of white also raised all sorts of questions around the white dress of Tiffany Trump, especially for those who embrace any opportunity to posit Trump family members as secret rebels (see the “Free Melania” gang).

Despite all the pre-publicity that the House members did, it’s possible Ms. Trump simply missed the message. After all, the organizers also urged male representatives to wear white shirts and white ribbons — and both the president and vice president, as well as many other Republicans, wore at least white shirts, though maybe not for that reason. So the point kind of got lost.

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