A guide to the fabulous coats at the inauguration, from Kamala to Michelle

By Ashley FettersJada Yuan

JANUARY 20, 2021

On a chilly Wednesday in January, during a pandemic that’s forced Americans to wear masks obscuring their faces, the most high-profile attendees at the inauguration of the 46th president knew their outerwear would have to send the messages that their faces couldn’t.

President Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff brought their A-game, both sporting coats made by Ralph Lauren. But others, including the incoming first lady and vice president, stole the show.

Jill Biden’s sophisticated Markarian tweed

Joe and Jill Biden leave the inauguration. (Patrick Semansky/Reuters) (Pool/Reuters)

The incoming first lady’s ensemble is designed by Alexandra O’Neill’s sustainability-focused label Markarian. Many found its bright ocean blue color — in two complementary shades, with matching gloves and mask — striking in the good way. Others had flashbacks to “The Undoing,” with its notably lavish outerwear.

Kamala Harris’s blue-purple Christopher John Rogers

Vice President Harris stands with husband Doug Emhoff as she takes the oath of office. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Vice President Harris’s outerwear, designed by rising-star Black designer Christopher John Rogers, was purple, a color symbolic of both unity (mixing red and blue) and of the suffragette movement (along with white). Many have suggested the color is also in tribute to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president. Purple is one of many colors Chisholm used in her campaign, according to Katheryn Russell-Brown, the author of the picture book “She Was the First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm.” (Harris’s presidential campaign used not only purple but red and yellow, a nod to Chisholm having used them, the Guardian reported.)

Harris also wore pearls, as she often does to honor her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which refers to its founders as the “Twenty Pearls.”

Ella Emhoff’s Miu Miu top coat

Cole and Ella Emhoff, Doug Emhoff’s children and Harris’s stepchildren. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Emhoff — daughter of Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, stepdaughter of Harris and a textile-design student at the Parsons School of Design in New York City — garnered many a heart-eye emoji with her beige Miu Miu Shetland Pied De Poule coat adorned with gold at the shoulders. Some wondered if it ushered in the age of be-sequined shoulders:

Michelle Obama’s maximalist Sergio Hudson

Barack and Michelle Obama arrive. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Another of several women in politics wearing purple at the inauguration, the former first lady wore a dramatic long overcoat in a warm burgundy shade, designed by Sergio Hudson, a Black designer from South Carolina. The coat, alongside the rest of the Obamas’ sartorial choices, inspired “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes to tweet a photo with praise: “I don’t even have to comment. You see them.”

Bernie Sanders’s all-purpose Burton parka

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Tasos Katopodis/AFP via Getty Images)

At the inauguration, it appeared Sen. Sanders was once again taking the opportunity to showcase a hometown brand: His practical winter coat, made in Burlington, Vt., is the same one he’s wearing in the photo that became the ubiquitous “I am once again asking” meme. To some, Sanders’s ensemble of parka and hand-knit mittens lent him the distinct air of a gruff granddad, or of having run a few errands beforehand

Amy Klobuchar’s “big aunt energy” gold

Sen. Amy Klobuchar. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg)

Who says you can’t wear the same coat twice? Sen. Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who acted as an emcee of the event, wasn’t afraid to repeat the mustard yellow coat she wore in a blizzard at the beginning of 2019 when she announced her candidacy for presidency. Wearing the same coat at two giant public events? “Big aunt energy,” according to writer Rachel Syme on Twitter. The gold coat, combined with her maroon scarf, was a subtle nod to the colors of the University of Minnesota.

Nancy Pelosi’s turquoise extravaganza

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s monochromatic outfit of a turquoise coat paired with a turquoise scarf, not to mention turquoise stilettos, had plenty of fans.

But it probably won’t end up being as adored as the brick red Max Mara coat she wore to that meeting with former president Donald Trump in December 2018 to drive home a big fat “no” to the border wall right before the government shutdown. That coat has its own Twitter handle: @NancyCoat, whose bio reads: “I’m a coat, what else can I say? I have big coat energy.”

Amanda Gorman’s yellow Prada (and, oh, that headband)

Lady Gaga sang the national anthem, but the 22-year-old inaugural poet had the real “A Star Is Born” moment, not just for her incisive verses but that amazing bright yellow Prada coat. It was her nod to Jill Biden, who had recommended her for the honor of being the youngest poet to write and recite an original poem at an inaugural. “[Jill Biden] said, ‘I saw this video of you and you were wearing yellow and I loved it,’” Gorman told Vogue.

Her jewelry was provided by none other than Oprah Winfrey, who is a fan of Gorman’s. Vogue reported that when Gorman’s idol, Maya Angelou, spoke at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, Winfrey sent her a coat and a pair of gloves. Gorman wore gold hoops, and a ring in the shape of a caged bird, symbolizing Angelou’s memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” But runner-up to the coat (which has already sold out on Farfetch) is that fabulous giant red Prada headband.

Janet Yellen’s toasty-warm, weather-appropriate puffer

While Sanders channeled America’s no-nonsense patriarchs, the nominee for treasury secretary took up the mantle of our nation’s sensible moms and grandmas. Bundled in a hooded black puffer jacket and a navy lap blanket, Yellen’s ensemble struck a chord with those whose clothing philosophy is “form follows function.”

Meena Harris’s green-on-green shearling

Meena Harris, niece of Vice President Harris. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Harris’s very fashionable niece Meena Harris, debuted her green shearling coat from Coach with a simple mic-drop tweet: “WE IN HERE AMERICA.”

But the lawyer and best-selling children’s book author said — and moms everywhere can relate — that the hardest part of her day was just leaving the house in winter with two daughters under the age of 5. “Is there an award for getting your entire family dressed for cold weather and out of the house under very stressful circumstances without killing your family [sic] I would like to nominate myself,”

Her daughters also had excellent coat game, wearing fuzzy animal prints to resemble coats that Harris and her sister Maya, Meena’s mom, had worn as kids.

The Best-Kept Fashion Secret of ‘The Crown’

One online vintage shop is the source of many of Princess Diana’s best looks.

By Vanessa Friedman Dec. 1, 2020

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in a Valentino power suit from Menage Modern Vintage.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in a Valentino power suit from Menage Modern Vintage.

Ever since “The Crown,” Season 4, bowed on Netflix, the stylesphere has been filled with strange declarations of desire for the pie-crust collars, novelty sweaters, puffed-sleeve floral frocks and 1980s power jackets immortalized by Princess Diana as she ascended to stardom and Princess Anne as she issued caustic asides. Followed pretty much immediately by queries on how to “get the look.”

Such fantasies are rarely easy to fulfill, involving, as they would, time travel — or at least fruitless searching through the pages of Vogues British or American and the social media posts of influencers. But this time around there is actually an answer.

It lies in a house in Fitzroy Square in Central London, where Chiara Menage, an elegant 54-year-old former film producer, runs an online vintage clothing store from her kitchen table: Menage Modern Vintage. She is the only employee, and until Amy Roberts, the costume designer for “The Crown,” discovered her trove of 1970s, ’80s and ’90s garments, she was pretty much an undiscovered treasure. (She still has only 807 followers on Instagram.)

But the Peter Pan-collared floral Liberty print dress Diana wears when Prince Charles issues his ill-fated marriage proposal? Menage Modern Vintage. The pale yellow puff-sleeve midi-skirt suit Diana wears for her lunch meeting with Camilla? Hardy Amies from Menage Modern Vintage. The red power suit Diana wears on the way to the Christmas finale? Valentino, Menage Modern Vintage.

In “The Crown,” Lady Diana wears a vintage Liberty print shirtdress when she accepts the prince’s proposal

How did you become the ultimate royal fashion resource?

I spent 20 years working in independent movies and then had three boys, took some time and wanted a change. I’d always loved clothes, but I haven’t bought anything new since about 2000. I live near Marylebone, which is a quite rich area, and I started shopping in charity shops and discovered people were throwing away beautiful Givenchy outfits that I’d never be able to afford to buy new.

I think it’s much easier to find a piece you love by accident than to go into a shop like Selfridges with a list. If you go into a charity shop, something just jumps out at you and insists you have it. Later I got much more interested in the sustainability side of things. I just don’t understand why you would ever buy anything new. Underwear aside.

So I had accumulated a lot. Then about two years ago a friend’s daughter said, “Why not set up a website?” My friends also said they had loads of clothes they didn’t know what to do with, and I thought, “Why not?” I just blithely set it up. I had no idea what I was doing.

What is “modern vintage”?

Vintage is officially anything over 20 years old. The millennium is a useful benchmark. Now a lot of people try to cash in on the word and say “vintage” in a listing when it’s clearly not.

I started with a rainbow-sequined catsuit by Rifat Ozbek, one of only two ever made — the other belonging to Grace Jones — that was given to me after a shoot for one of his videos. I did a lot of partying in that suit, but it had been gathering dust in the attic. It was one of the first things I sold, to a collector, and it gave me the money to create a small studio in my basement with a borrowed camera and other things I needed for the business. It also taught me a lot about letting go. This business is not going to make me rich, but I have met a lot of interesting people because of it.

Chiara Menage, whose online vintage shop was the source of the ’80s clothes on “The Crown,” Season 4.

Like who?

I had a client who was a princess. I met Sandy Powell, the costume designer, during lockdown because she was home for the first time in ages. She had a big clear-out and gave me 60 pieces, so we decided to sell everything to benefit Refuge, the charity, because we both felt we had been very lucky, all things considered.

I met a young woman on a Photoshop course who said, “My granny’s gone, will you help me clear out her clothes?” Then she took me to her granny’s home, which turned out to be a stately home in the country with a whole floor of clothes from the 1950s. A lot ended up in “The Crown.” Now the young woman sends me messages saying how amazed she is her granny’s stuff is being worn by Princess Anne.

Speaking of “The Crown,” how did that happen?

Through a mutual friend, who brought in Amy Roberts, the costume designer. I had just taken on five huge storage units of clothes, sight unseen. They were from a woman, an heiress, who had died and been a complete shopaholic and hoarder. She would stay in a hotel, do a load of shopping at places like Balenciaga and Hermès, nick all the hotel toiletries and then buy a Louis Vuitton suitcase to put everything in. It took months to go through it all.

We found some suitcases full of 12-year-old smoked salmon. Bills from the Dorchester for 14 million pounds. The clothes were pristine. Most hadn’t been worn. So Amy came to have a look and then said she was going to set aside a whole day to come back with her assistant, who is also her daughter. She ended up coming three times and took between 80 and 100 pieces.

Diana wears a pale Hardy Amies suit when she has lunch with Camilla.

Are there pieces in the show you think are particularly special?

There are loads I love! I just did a post about a floral silk two-piece pajama set by Ungaro. “The Crown” put it on someone in Mustique. I thought, “I really want it back,” but I don’t have the lifestyle, and it didn’t fit. There was a suit made by Arabella Pollen that was big white and green stripes, and I was really glad because Arabella used to make clothes for Princess Diana, and that one really said it all.

The red Valentino suit Diana wears I had actually sold to someone in Italy and hadn’t shipped yet, and then Amy saw it, and I had to call the buyer up and ask if we could keep it after all. It’s lovely seeing the pieces being worn in actual scenes.

Any tips on what is coming?

A friend of mine recently told me about being invited to a 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle in the early ’80s. She borrowed a dress from her sister — Bellville Sassoon, black velvet, backless with boned bodice and huge skirt. It turned out to be identical to the one Diana was wearing at the party.

The next day the tabloids went crazy with the headline “Mystery blonde upstages Diana” and camped outside her house for a couple of weeks after bribing a dastardly Etonian to reveal her identity. They offered her the princely sum of 1,000 pounds to pose in the dress getting into a taxi at night, which she refused. She is digging out the dress and the press cuttings from the attic, and I hope to offer it soon.

What Will Jill Biden Wear in the White House?


November 11, 2020

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Jill Biden leave the stage after the final 2020 presidential campaign...
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Jill Biden leave the stage after the final 2020 presidential campaign debate. Photo: Alamy 

Jill Biden will become first lady on January 20, 2021. After eight years in the vice president’s residence, she is familiar with the spotlight, but her new role will bring a heightened level of visibility to her choices, sartorial and otherwise.

During the campaign, Biden’s most visible moment came at the Democratic National Convention, when she gave a speech from the high school in Wilmington, Delaware, where she taught English. Her dark green Brandon Maxwell shirtdress conveyed poise and capability. The elegant but unassuming Oscar de la Renta dress she chose for husband Joe Biden’s acceptance speech on Saturday once again telegraphed a chic, yet down-to-earth sensibility. And it seems her fashion choices are already having an effect on consumers: Thanks to Biden, the Oscar de la Renta look sold out in several hours on The Outnet. Perhaps her experience in the classroom has influenced her approachable, warm style. After all, as Joe Biden said in his wife’s Democratic National Convention introduction video: “Teaching is not what Jill does. It’s who she is.”

While the inaugural gowns of first ladies go down in history—we’re sure designers across the U.S. are lining up for the chance to dress Biden—their day-to-day wardrobes are now a growing source of fascination. Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House style was the subject of a Costume Institute exhibition in 2001, and Michelle Obama’s outfits were closely watched and roundly applauded. (Who can forget, for instance, the J.Crew sweater she accessorized with an Azzedine Alaïa belt?)

Biden’s formal fashion will certainly be something to watch in the coming months, especially during the inauguration, but her most endearing style trait is the fact that she isn’t overtly glamorous or fond of high fashion with a capital F. She’s down-to-earth, and her clothes reflect that easy sensibility. While she is always chic and well-heeled, she also runs in leggings and T-shirts every morning, and she will continue to teach, becoming the first first lady in history to maintain her day job after Inauguration Day.

By necessity, Biden’s clothes will have to be just as practical as they are emblematic. Her latest choices highlight her thoughtfulness: For the DNC, she went with a unifying choice, selecting Brandon Maxwell, who is from Texas, a red state that has a chance of going blue in the next election cycle. Again, unity is the key message of the Biden-Harris office. So too is diversity and inclusion. For her first appearance as first lady-elect, she chose a look from Oscar de la Renta, which is now helmed by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, who were born in South Korea and the Dominican Republic, respectively.

The symbolism inherent in those dresses suggests that Biden—like many but not all of her predecessors—understands the impact the first lady has on America’s vision of itself. To us, it looks like she’s ready to roll up her sleeves, stretch out her arms, and begin the work of healing this country.