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Wearing white to the State of the Union isn’t what it used to be

Democrats go for a more positive fashion statement than the one they sent in 2016

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Washington, February 4, 2019 | comments
Written by Lindsey McPherson, Roll Call

House Democratic women plan to break out their white suits and dresses Tuesday for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union. The color may be the same, but the reason has changed.

“This is really going to be sending a message — especially to all the women and their families in the country that put us into the majority with all these new women [members] — that a big part of our agenda is going to be promoting the economic security of women and their families,” Rep. Lois Frankel, chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, said in an interview. 

Items on that agenda include instituting paycheck fairness, combating sexual harassment, creating more family-friendly workplaces and family leave policies and providing more resources for affordable child care, the Florida Democrat said. 

 

Why white?

“The white really harkens back to the day of the suffragists,” Frankel said. “I know there’s a debate about whether the suffragists really wore white, but I think historically and symbolically, white is associated with the suffragette movement.”

The Democratic women wore white to Trump’s first joint address to Congress in 2017 for similar reasons. But at that time, they were trying to stand up for women’s rights amid concerns that the new administration would trample them.

Last year, at Trump’s first official State of the Union address, the women wore black to stand in solidarity with sexual harassment victims at the height of the “Me Too” movement.

“The last couple years we were basically reflecting back to Trump,” Frankel said. “This year it’s a much more positive — our for the people agenda —positive agenda, emphasizing economic security for women and their families.”

Democratic Caucus members, both women and men, have been informed about the planned visual statement via email and conversations with colleagues on the floor. 

“There’s always a few stragglers, but I would say unless they forget to bring their white, the women will be wearing white, and a lot of the men will be wearing white shirts and so forth,” Frankel said. 

The members participating in such fashion statements typically sit together in the House chamber so that TV camera shots and pictures from the event capture the display.

This year’s state of the Union will offer a bonus visual as well, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wearing her white, sitting behind Trump as he speaks.

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