In the last six months, a trend has emerged: The wardrobes of Washington, D.C.’s most powerful women are inspiring the type of frenzied fashion interest that was previously reserved for celebrities or style influencers. After Kamala Harris wore Timberland boots (with pearls!), search for the shoes increased 376% week-on-week according to Lyst, a search fashion platform, while demand for the brand rose by 25% compared to the week before. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed her Telfar bag on Instagram, searches for the New York-based brand also spiked 163%, and demand for its hard-to-get shopping bags increased 270%. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is this week’s most powerful influencer,” the Lyst report citing those numbers read.
The fashion platform is not the first to use the word “influencer” to describe a political figure. In April, The New York Times ran an article titled “Cuomo, Fauci, Birx: The New Influencers,” in which writer Vanessa Friedman talked about the public’s then-fascination with White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx’s silk scarves — they even earned their own Instagram account early in the pandemic. More recently, Elle published an article, “How Politicians Became 2020’s Biggest Fashion Influencers,” leaving no doubt that political leaders have become figures to watch for sartorial choices. It’s not entirely surprising; fashion and politics go hand-in-hand. In fact, the statement “fashion is political” has been used so often — including, recently, when referencing Nancy Pelosi’s matching masks and pantsuits — it has become a cliche. But lately the question has become: Should politics be fashionable? And: What does it mean to cast political figures as fashion influencers?
While this may be a fairly new phenomenon when it comes to the fashion of female senators and congresswomen, people have long looked to the First Lady to provide style inspiration. In the case of women like Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama, who were already considered fashionable prior to moving into the White House, their time in the D.C. spotlight made them bona fide style icons. While the former inspired a distinctive fashion aesthetic that, to this day, inspires women and fashion brands, the latter left an enviable trail of receipts from clothing that routinely sold out after she wore it, regardless of whether it was a $2,000 designer dress or a $100 J.Crew cardigan. (The Michelle Obama effect continues to this day, despite it being almost four years since the family left the White House: At the 2020 Democratic National Convention, after Obama wore a necklace spelling out “VOTE,” the brand ByChari was inundated with orders for the style.)