The white pantsuit has become, against all odds, one of the most powerful emblems in Washington, D.C.
I know, I know. You’re thinking: not again! Not another story about a white pantsuit! But there’s no escaping it. That is the point.
It has become a statement in itself, layered in meaning and nuance; loaded with history — recent and long-ago; an unspoken nod to justice in the face of power. And it is increasingly wheeled out, remorselessly even, by those who wear it in times of high drama and national attention.
In fact, it’s barely a suit anymore. It’s a symbol.
So there was Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, on Thursday morning, standing in the ceremonial speaker’s hallway framed against a backdrop of American flags, as she announced that the House of Representatives would begin drafting impeachment articles against President Trump. She was grim of face, resolved of mien, looking down the long corridor of history, her hands clasped before her — and wearing a white pantsuit.
It was the same sort of white pantsuit that she wore in February during the State of the Union address, when the Democratic women of the 116th Congress had resolved to wear white in honor of the suffragists, in celebration of their record numbers and in protest of Mr. Trump’s policies. (At that time she also wore a white shell underneath; this time, she chose a black version, with black pearls around her neck, perhaps in a nod to the somberness of the occasion.)
The same sort of white suit Hillary Clinton wore to take her place as the democratic nominee for President.
The same sort of suit that then became a hashtag and a Facebook group for women who dreamed of electing the first female President.
The same sort of white suit that current Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has been wearing onstage during the last three debates as she makes her case for her own electability (albeit with a somewhat different effect).
And the same sort of suit Melania Trump wore in 2018 to that State of the Union, in her first appearance after the allegations broke that President Trump had conducted an affair with the pornographic film star Stormy Daniels.
This could all be a coincidence, of course. Anything is possible. But given the intensely public nature of almost all these events — given that they were all filmed and streamed and photographed for front pages the world over — it’s hard to imagine Ms. Pelosi just reached into her closet this morning, knowing what she was about to do, knowing the image of her speech would be captured forever, and thought, “Oh, I’ll just wear whatever comes to hand.”
Certainly, Ms. Pelosi has long understood the power of color, and the way it can be a part of the politician’s playbook, even as she is focused on more important issues. Indeed, she has experienced its effects twice in the last year alone.
The first time was last December when she wore a burnt orange MaxMara coat to sit down with the President, and declared, “Don’t characterize the strength that I bring.” The viewing public latched on to the garment as a symbol of her firepower.
The second time was the next month, after her election as speaker for a second time, when she raised the gavel on the opening ceremony of Congress in a bright fuchsia dress, one that stood out in a sea of dark suits like a beacon announcing her unapologetic femininity, and renouncing the idea that any woman would have to dress like a man to be a leader, ever again.
Her choice to eschew such colors, or even the Armani taupe she wore when she and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, delivered their televised rebuttal to Mr. Trump’s border wall address the same month, for a shade that — even beyond the obvious (and admittedly trite) associations like peace, purity and new beginnings — has become so entwined with the optics of current competing political narratives is worth considering.
Not as much as her words, obviously — not as much as the idea that “our democracy is what is at stake,” as she put it, and not as much as what could happen next.
But in a world where the president has made his own clothing, be it a red MAGA cap or a dark suit and glowing red tie, a proprietary form of shorthand — and weaponized his campaign merch — the white suit is its own unspoken retort. It may never be something you wear only between Memorial and Labor Days again.