Michelle Obama delivered an impassioned speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC) on Monday night, during which she reflected on the reality of American life today and the urgency of the November election.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election," she said.
“If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
But more than just her speech, it was the former first lady’s choice of jewellery that really seems to have captured the internet’s attention.
For the keynote speech on the first day of the DNC, Obama addressed the country wearing a dainty gold necklace that featured four letter pendants spread out across the chain, spelling the word “V-O-T-E”.
The pendant was an immediate hit with eagle-eyed viewers who noticed the delicate accessory, with Google Trends confirming that “Michelle Obama necklace”, “vote necklace” and “letter necklace” were among the top searches in the last hour of the event as people scrambled to find out where they could buy one of their own.
“Someone find me Michelle Obama's VOTE necklace immediately please, I need to wear it every day for the rest of my life,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another added: “Where can I find Forever FLOTUS Michelle Obama's V-O-T—E necklace? Asking for a friend.”
A third person commented: “The DNC convention was 95 per cent cringe worthy and five per cent Michelle Obama's necklace.”
“This piece will grow with you, is always in style, on trend and age appropriate,” the product description reads. “VOTE your heart out and get it in the world’s finest metals.”
In a statement to the Daily Beast, ByChari founder Chari Cuthbert said she created the VOTE necklace for the 2016 election and that she was contacted by Obama’s stylist a few weeks ago to made her a custom version.
“We had no idea where she was going to wear it,” Cuthbert said. “We just knew that she wanted it.”
She continued: “There was a snippet from her DNC speech on CNN and my mum sent it to me.
“I couldn't believe it. Out of respect, I didn’t post it or anything, because I didn’t want to take advantage.”
While the former FLOTUS' calls to vote didn't end with her necklace, Obama’s sartorial statement acknowledges the political power of fashion.
Obama realised very early on that everything she did, and wore, had ramifications and that she could insert subliminal cues into her outfit choices.
Meredith Koop, her stylist since 2010, played an important role in making sure that Obama’s appearance was always on point and together they worked to “turn fashion into [a] tool,” as the former first lady explained in Becoming.
“I had to learn on a few occasions the hard way to practice restraint and be more risk averse,” Koop previously told Vogue of the White House years.
“I couldn’t really approach the styling like, ‘Oh, this is so fabulous, this is beautiful.’ That wasn’t the primary goal.”
Using clothing as a form of political protest happens often in the United States. Before President Donald Trump spoke at the 2019 State of the Union, women of the US Democratic party, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dresses unanimously in white to make a powerful statement.
At the time, Ocasio-Cortez explained that the women wanted the president to see “a wave of white” – a colour which historically has associations with the Suffrage movement and was also worn several times by Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign.
Most recently, Polish left-wing parliamentarians wore dresses, shirts, and trousers in the colours of the rainbow to show solidarity with Poland’s LGBTQ+ community during the swearing in of President Andrzej Duda after he was accused of running a campaign laced with homophobic rhetoric.
A bird’s-eye photo from above showed the stark contrast between politicians' attire during the ceremony, with one half of the room composed of Duda and his representatives dressed in black, while the opposition sent a colourful message against anti-LGBTQ policies.
The tradition of protest dressing is not new and is often used as a vehicle for protest among fashion designers and members of the general public too.
In the 1980s, Katharine Hamnett made waves with her now-iconic slogan T-shirts, including one that read “58 per cent Don't Want Pershing” which she wore to Downing Street to confront Margaret Thatcher, and more recent versions that read: “Cancel Brexit”, “Second Referendum Now” and “Vote Trump Out.”
Similarly, in 2018, women dressed as Margaret Atwood-inspired Handmaids in Washington to protest Brett Kavanaugh's appointment, while in 2017 pink “pussy” hats were adopted by thousands of women during protests against Trump’s presidency.
At his history-making Glastonbury performance last year, British rapper Stormzy employed a similar sentiment, drawing attention to gun crime by wearing a stab-proof vest bearing a black and white Union Jack, which was later credited to artist Banksy.
Such sartorial statements attest to the fact that fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum and can be used as a tool to proclaim solidarity, convey important political messages and allow people to outwardly align themselves with like-minded individuals.
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