Political Fashion – The Uproar Over Kamala Harris’ Vogue Cover

Fashion = Sexism?


Nicholas Yoo

Undoubtedly, 2021 is off to a rocky start. However, what seems like the least of our problems compared to the global pandemic or the Capitol Building insurrection, a leaked-photo of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Vogue magazine’s cover set generated a firestorm on the Internet. 

Vogue, headed by Anna Wintour, has been known to feature multiple celebrities and political figures on its covers such as former First Ladies Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama. This year’s February issue that features Vice President-Elect Harris clad “in a dark jacket by Donald Deal, skinny pants, Converse, and her trademark pearls” (NYT 3). The image was taken by Tyler Mitchell, the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, known for his unique aesthetic. 

However, it’s not her choice of clothing that created this mess, she chose her own clothes. It’s the overall setting and environment of the image that created the media maelstrom. The selected photo was described as un-fancy, messy, unflattering lighting, and the number one commonly described word for this: “disrespectful.” 

According to insiders of this photoshoot arrangement, the two Vogue covers released were agreed to in advance, clothes to backdrops, by Kamala Harris herself and the Vogue team. Yet, because the company did not grant any contractual cover approval rights to Ms. Harris, her team did not see the final choice and did not know that the pink curtain backdrop photo was switched to the paper-magazine cover rather than the intended digital cover. 

While Ms. Harris’ team declined to comment on the incident, the magazine released a statement: “The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.”

This statement brought about some major controversy. Vogue has a messy history with race as the magazine’s editor, Wintour has a past of hiring few Black photographers and not understanding how to light Black men and women properly, as was with the case Ms. Harris. Although this isn’t the Vice President-elect’s first fashion cover, it is her first since being certified for the job. 

In the midst of a national crisis, Harris has made history of being the first Black female vice president as well as the first female vice president of South Asian descent. Her presence in these esteemed magazines is what empowers Black males and females to step up as well as those in the minority. However, if major publications such as Vogue fail to properly present their clients to the public, maybe it’s time for a “touch up” on how to represent the minority to the majority. 

As someone who has little knowledge in fashion, and less interest in the field, this issue caught my attention as seeing in our divided nation, one of our problems is race and equality.