Why are people wearing pearls on inauguration day?

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Olivia Petter
·4 min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will officially begin their respective roles as president and vice president of the US.

Ahead of the historic occasion, which will mark the first time a woman and a person of colour has been appointed vice president of America, social media users have been posting photographs of themselves wearing pearls, prompting the phrase “wear pearls on inauguration day” to trend on Twitter.

“Happy Inauguration Day! We are wearing our pearls for Kamala,” tweeted one couple.

Another person tweeted: “Happy Inauguration Day!!!!! You can find me joyously wearing my grandma’s pearl necklace with my scrubs today.”

But why are people wearing pearls to mark inauguration day? And what do they have to do with Ms Harris? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why are people wearing pearls on inauguration day?

More than 430,000 people have pledged to wear pearls on Wednesday 20 January as part of a Facebook group titled: “wear pearls on Jan 20 2021”.

However, judging by the thousands of tweets posted today, it looks like the number of women wearing pearls today will be far greater.

The idea is that wearing pearls is a way of honouring and celebrating Ms Harris, who frequently wears a string of pearls around her neck, as she enters the White House as the country’s first female vice president.

There is a historical trend of wearing pearls to support women in politics, which has led to the jewels representing a degree of power and authority. Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama , Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are just some of the famous faces to have frequently sported the trend.

But for Ms Harris, pearls carry a particularly special symbolic meaning.

During her time at Howard University, Harris was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (AKA), a historically black institution based in Washington DC.

AKA was founded in 1908, and ever since, sorority members have referred to their founders as the “Twenty Pearls”.

This is because of a tradition within AKA that dictates that every time a new woman is initiated into the sorority, she receives a badge covered with twenty pearls.

Because of this, and the fact that Harris is almost always seen wearing pearls, the jewellery is largely viewed as a token of sisterhood and female solidarity.

Why did people wear pearls to support Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September last year, women around the world chose to honour the US Supreme Court judge’s legacy by donning a string of pearls around their necks.

However, this drew criticism as people were already wearing pearls to show support for Ms Harris, who was busy on the campaign trail at the time, leading to accusations of “whitewashing” their efforts to show solidarity with a biracial candidate.

One person tweeted: “White Women: Before you post your pearls on Nov 3, first understand the meaning behind them.

"It’s a great gesture and show of support for Kamala. What’s not great is appropriating it to RBG [Ruth Bader Ginsburg]. It’s an AKA thing to show solidarity among her sorority sisters.

“Respect Black Women.” As the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg’s campaigning work for women and the LGBT communities has, for many, cemented her status as a feminist icon.”