From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Ilhan Omar, the Secret Meanings Behind the 2019 Congresswomen's Fashion Choices

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The swearing-in ceremony of the 116th U.S. Congress was an emotional one, as a historic number of women and a slew of “firsts” joined the House of Representatives. And even before members of the new class took their oaths, several shared their excitement about this moment on social media—clips and photos from the Washington, D.C., airport, snaps of the name plates outside their offices, images of their families, who’d tagged along for the ride…and, in at least one case, an #OOTD.

Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian American woman and one of the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress, announced she’d be borrowing a traditional thobe from her mother to be sworn in. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who joins her as the other first Muslim woman and is also the first Somali American person elected to Congress, became the first to wear a hijab and declared she’d challenge a 181-year ban on headwear on the House floor when she arrived in D.C. And given that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was fielding criticism from conservatives about her wardrobe weeks before her official start date, many anticipated what she’d wear to take her oath.

Fashion choices can speak volumes when a woman is in the public eye—and especially when she’s in public service. It can communicate power (see: Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s viral Max Mara coat), identity (like how members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore kente cloths to President Donald Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address, following his disparaging comments about African nations), and even an agenda (when she was First Lady, Michelle Obama had a whole strategy for championing American designers and for tailoring her fashion choices to wherever she was going). The incoming congresswomen understood that. And their swearing-in outfits reflected it.

Ahead, see how six U.S. Representatives used fashion on their first day on Capitol Hill to send a message to their constituents—and Americans at large—about who they are and what they stand for.



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