How Kamala Harris Became the Converse Candidate

Rose Minutaglio
·4 mins read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From ELLE

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images

On a recent episode of Desus & Mero, Democratic nominee Kamala Harris called for swift action to control COVID-19, sweeping police reform, and a robust plan to bridge the racial wealth gap. Then she made a very compelling case for Chuck Taylors.

"I just love them!" she told the talk show hosts, lifting her low-tops up in the air to prove it. "It's either Chucks or heels... Always has been."

The senator's obsession with sneakers is not new news. Two years ago she proudly told The Cut about her Converse "collection," including a black leather pair, a white pair, the kind that don’t lace, the kind that do lace, the ones she wears in hot weather, the ones she wears in cold weather, and her platforms that go with pantsuits.

She's known for traversing the country in comfortable kicks, allowing her to dance at the 2019 Des Moines Steak Fry and march in the San Francisco's Pride parade. But it wasn't until Harris hit the campaign trail last month as Democratic vice-presidential nominee that she was dubbed "a real boss" for her footwear.

This video of her deplaning in Milwaukee wearing a pair of simple black, low-rise All-Stars quickly garnered 5.6 million views. During a tour of the devastating California and Oregon wildfires, the Internet noticed (and had a lot of thoughts about) the boot in her rotation: Timberlands.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Fashion has always been a tool of political communication, and that's as true as ever in 2020. Remember when face masks were just a piece of fabric? Now they're a polarizing identity—used to communicate political agendas and shape public opinions. Sartorial choices have taken on an entirely new purpose for both female and male candidates.

At this point in the presidential race—47 days and counting—every move a candidate makes is carefully calculated by a big team behind the scenes. That means social media posts, speaking engagements, hair and makeup, mask-wearing, and, yes, shoe selection.

"Practical fashion in politics is now entwined with a leader’s political messaging," Lauren Rothman, a D.C.-based political stylist tells ELLE.com. "Masks, wrinkle-free fabrics, and rolled up sleeves are among the style choices that signal a new uniform is evolving on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill."

So are shoes, Rothman says. By claiming a signature look, Harris is "radiating confidence and helping an audience engage," she explains. "Her love for this iconic, affordable American brand is bold yet accessible and sneakers increase her likability factor during a really challenging time."

Contextually, Harris's campaign sneakers carry a historical significance. Never before has a female politician so openly embraced casual shoes as mainstream—or done it so authentically.

"Pictures of her over the years show her wearing Converse, so that indicates she's curated a collection she loves and can dress up or down for her lifestyle," Rothman says. "It’s not easy to climb the hills of San Francisco in heels. Her Chucks are an appropriate choice that weave her personal style with her environment."

And in case you still weren't convinced, Harris's husband Douglas Emhoff confirmedthe longtime affinity on Twitter, writing: "The @KamalaHarris I know wears Chucks and jeans...and now you all know too!" He also told The Hollywood Reporter she wore Converse to meet his children for the first time.

Hilary Rosen, a CNN political analyst, calls the Chuck Taylor trend the "single greatest thing to happen to women's wardrobes in years." She believes Harris's sneakers have the power to change the dress-code for all female politicians.

"[Kamala] is confident and comfortable in her own skin and doesn't need to follow some convention about what female candidates are supposed to wear and do," Rosen tells ELLE.com. "No one can say that Kamala Harris re-made herself to run for office, the way Donald Trump did."

Only time will reveal her impact on political fashion. But dresses and heels? She's Chucking those out.

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