Why Powerful Women Are Wearing White

It’s not by accident. A quick history of the significance of women wearing white as a political statement.
Why Powerful Women Are Wearing White

Photo, Alex Wong/Getty Images

If one image dominated this week’s U.S. State of the Union address, it was the sight of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the majority of the 89 female Democrats wearing bright white against a backdrop of their male colleagues’ grim, dark suits. Their outfits served as a statement of unity against President Trump’s policies negatively affecting women, proof of women’s growing clout in politics and a reminder of a long tradition that dates back much further than Hilary Clinton’s famous white pantsuits.

Why white? It was often worn by suffragettes as a symbol of purity, along with the colours purple (which represented loyalty) and green (hope). Clinton, aware of this history, wore white at her nomination, during two of her debates with Trump, and at Trump’s inauguration. In 2018, when Melania Trump arrived in a white Christian Dior suit to President Trump’s first State of the Union address, she prompted speculation that the outfit was a sly signal of sympathy to Clinton and to the participants of the previous year’s Women’s March. At this year’s address, for reasons we’ll likely never know, Melania reversed course and wore all black.

Here, a gallery of notable women making a political statement by wearing white.

History of White Suits


The official colours of the suffragette movement were white for purity, green for hope and purple for dignity. In this photo from 1918, a group of American suffragists rally together at the Capitol and House Office Building — mostly in white dresses. 

SOTU white suits explained: Black & white photo of group of suffragists in mostly white dresses and hats standing on stepsPhoto, George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm wore white when she was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Later, she also wore white when she became the first woman to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination back in 1972 (44 years before Hillary Clinton).

SOTU white suits explained: Shirley Chisolm in white suit, gives victory sign next to American flagPhoto, Bettmann

Geraldine Ferraro

At the 1984 Democratic Convention, Geraldine Ferraro wore white as she accepted the vice-president nomination and became the first woman to do so for a major party.

SOTU white suits explained: Geraldine Ferraro wears white while speaking at convention, with American flag in backgroundPhoto, © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton made history as the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination. To accept the nomination at the 2016 Democratic Convention, she wore a now-infamous white suit.   

SOTU white suits explained: Hillary Clinton waves to crowd in white suit, with American flag backgroundPhoto, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Melania Trump

First lady Melania Trump made a splash at the 2018 State of the Union address when she arrived in an all-white suit. 

SOTU white suits explained: Melania Trump walks down stairs in white suit to applauding bystandersPhoto, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore all white in honour of the women who came before her — from the suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm —  when she was sworn in to the historic 116th congress. The newest class broke records with over 100 women sworn in.

SOTU white suits explained: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in white suit, leans over to talk to kidPhoto, Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Democrat Women At The 2019 State of the Union Address

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most of the 89 Democrat women in Congress banded together by wearing all white to demonstrate their unity against policies undoing the progress in women’s rights.  

SOTU white suits explained: Group of Democratic women wearing white celebrate and clapPhoto, Alex Wong/Getty Images


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