The role of fashion in politics changes by person, with some timidly spreading messages about the designers or the clothes they wear, and others, like First Lady Jill Biden, choosing to stay mum about designers or brands .
Jacqueline Kennedy was in the first camp, using fashion as a means to attract or distract attention while also setting fashion trends throughout her life. On Friday, the White House Historical Society will host a dedication ceremony in honor of Kennedy at Decatur. It’s the first of two fashion-themed events coming to Washington, DC – the second being the First Fashion Gala, which will be held in October.
Biden is expected at the White House Historical Society ceremony, which will dedicate a new garden featuring a sculpture designed by Chas Fagan to honor Kennedy’s legacy in restoring the White House and preserving Lafayette Square. Fagan delayed any comment Thursday until after the revelation. Like it or not, Biden and Kennedy’s personal style is likely to be mentioned in media coverage or by designer representatives. Gabriela Hearst’s team, for example, touted Biden’s choice of a custom embroidered dress from the designer to appear at the Concordia Annual Summit in the media Thursday afternoon.
To highlight the power of fashion in the political realm, the First Fashion Gala will be held on October 12 to celebrate the work of designers who have dressed First Ladies and First Gentlemen from around the world. For security reasons and to avoid party bangers, the location of the event will be announced closer to the event. Ticket sales for the 350-person event benefit the non-profit organization Diplomacy and Fashion, which helps underprivileged students across the United States study fashion and design. The organization’s founder, Indira Gumarova, whose husband, Hynek Kmonicek, is the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, previously worked on a Manolo Blahnik shoe exhibition and a fashion show at the US State Department building. Diplomacy and Fashion also worked with DC Events to develop a television miniseries about how former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s pins signaled diplomatic messages.
After reflecting on how many first ladies there are around the world, Gumarova said, “There was no better place to start this gala” than Washington, DC, which has more than 200 embassies. She began working on the project a year ago, and it features the work of designers who have dressed first ladies, kings and queens from over 35 countries.
“Diplomacy and fashion is also the theme of the gala. Fashion is the silent language of diplomacy. It’s as powerful as a sign language. It speaks through facial expressions, gestures and images,” she said, adding that a sign language translator will begin with a message, which will then be highlighted with a fashion show categorized by geography. The organizers are still ironing out which designers will be present.
Naeem Khan, whose designs were worn some 28 times by Michelle Obama during her tenure in the White House, is providing two dresses for the event. The non-partisan event will also feature an Oscar de la Renta dress worn by Laura Bush in her role as First Lady and a dress that belonged to Edith Wilson, who married the widowed Woodrow Wilson during his first term as President in 1915 . “She was a fashionista. She began bringing French couture to America. She always dressed impeccably,” said Gumarova, who also has requests for loaned clothes to Biden’s press team and the Kennedy family.
“Fashion in Washington, DC, exists. It’s not like New York, Milan or Paris. It’s only really by protocol, [and is representative] different countries, protocol and respect. It exists. It’s just different,” Gumarova said.
Fashion is “a silent language,” she said. “First you see people and then they speak. Their clothes speak first and then they give a message. But the message should definitely support the way they dress. Dressing improperly is definitely a source of controversy, as seen in Melania Trump’s jacket with “I really not care, do u?” [that she wore in 2018 to visit migrant children in a Texas detention center].”
Gumarova also mentioned how first ladies have been known to give interviews to Vogue magazine, though they may not directly address fashion in their comments. Biden has appeared on the cover of Vogue, as has her Ukrainian counterpart Olena Zelenska more recently, sparking much controversy. Referring to the first ladies’ fashion message, Gumarova said, “They definitely use it and it’s been used by Edith Wilson for more than a century. It is still going on now and every country in the world is using it.”
Ultimately, Fashion and Diplomacy aims to develop college and university curricula on its eponymous subject. Talks are ongoing with Marymount College, Gumarova said.
As a champion of sustainable fashion, Diplomacy and Fashion educates aspiring diplomats and designers on the role of fashion in diplomacy and empowers designers. It also aims to inform and celebrate different cultures as well as the usual gifts, gestures and protocols for makeup, shoes, accessories and everything else. Gumarova recalls how Meghan Markle once commented in an interview that she didn’t know what to wear to meet Queen Elizabeth II or where to look for this kind of information and is trying to create one central website for everyone Types of information to create diplomacy and fashion.
“It all belongs together. And people are watching you, especially in Washington. Then suddenly it’s in the news and all over the world. Hence this mission and gala and hopefully this one too [college] Courses will be so influential that people around the world will realize that this is such an important issue and it’s high time to start talking about it,” Gumarova said.