Nobody calls it the nerd ball anymore. Like every other event involving a red carpet these days, the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has become yet another opportunity to use an image-making moment to generate conversation and sway opinion. public. It is only due to reason.
After all, who better understands the value of the photo op and how it attracts attention in the chaos of the mass social media sphere than those who helped create it and the politicians they cover? They know that while we come for the celebrities who gravitate to the warm glow of power and substance – last year it was Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson who made their official debut as a couple; this year it’s Chrissy Teigen and John Legend – what lingers is how the real stars of the night enjoy their moment in the spotlight. The most interesting choices are not limited to pretty clothes.
(See, for example, the decision by Tamara Keith, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, to use her dress to pay homage to the polka-dot dress that Holly Hunter’s character wore at the WHCD in “Broadcast News”, a film that sparked his own desire to pursue journalism.)
Who did it better this time around? The answers might surprise you.
The Pennsylvania senator continues his streak as one of Washington’s most notable dressers. Given that he only recently returned to the capital after being treated for depression, joining the WHCD red carpet fray with his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, was a deliberate statement about his recovery, his will to be open about their experience and resilience. “I put him in a tuxedo”, his wife tweetedreferring to Mr Fetterman’s penchant for shorts, Dickies and Carhartt hoodies – and how, since taking his oath in the capital, he has played by the rules of the institution.
Yet he hasn’t completely ditched the regular-guy wardrobe that helped him get elected and is part of his signature even in Washington. Notice the black sneakers at his feet. They’re a sign that he knows what he stands for – and that’s why his style matters.
The White House press secretary chose a white Emily Adams Bode dress for dinner, showing her ease with the game of fashion diplomacy. Ms. Bode is not only a freelance designer in New York, but also one who has made a name for herself working with recycled fabrics and other scrap materials, allowing Ms. Jean-Pierre to highlight the efforts of the Biden administration in favor of local manufacturing and sustainability.
Not to mention the American fashion industry, which hasn’t had quite the same love of the current western and eastern regimes of some previous administrations. (Mrs. Bode being something of a poster boy for American fashion success, having won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s award for America’s top menswear designer for the past three years and recently branching out into clothing for women, which she unveiled with great success in Paris.)
Ms Jean-Pierre is also rumored to be attending the Met Gala, suggesting this could be a harbinger of a deeper relationship to come.
The ‘Uncut Gems’ star and former object of Kanye West’s affection and Svengali trends fully embraced her role as the so-unexpected-it’s-cool guest of the evening. She won the red carpet by showing up in a black bustier and feathered dress with rubber opera gloves, a leather jacket-shaped handbag on a hanger and a Kabuki white painted face with make-up exaggerated black eyes.
The look, unsurprisingly, sparked a flurry of fevered speculation: Was it her fashionable way of implying that Washington was a city of clowns? Was she preparing to punish someone? The more interesting possibility was that her look was an implied reference to “Black Swan.” And not just the 2010 film Natalie Portman, but also Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book in which the author presented the black swan theory of unexpected events. It probably pretty much describes the last six years in Washington, not to mention the upcoming presidential campaign. It might be overthinking the outfit, but it’s still a pretty intriguing idea.
Finally, the vice president had a moment to shine. Literally, in a dusty blue sequined column dress by Sergio Hudson, the black designer who also made her inaugural dress. It was a shock not to see Ms Harris in her usual understated dark suit – and to note that she wasn’t taking the background fade route just wearing a tuxedo like the men around her. Even though the vice president, like the president and first lady, skipped the step, it was impossible to miss her from her seat on the dais, suggesting this could be the start of a more visible role in countryside.
If so, it was time. She is the first female vice president and the first woman of color to hold the seat. She might as well use her clothes to remind everyone how pioneering she is – and to pave the way for more interesting and evocative attire for all the women to come after her.