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On Jan. 19, Vogue announced Vice President Kamala Harris as its February 2021 Cover Star. With this announcement, the iconic fashion and lifestyle magazine released the photographs of Vice President Harris that would be used for the digital and print editions of the issue. The images sparked intense backlash on social media, primarily from those who weren’t impressed with the way the Vice President was styled for the cover of the print edition. Although discourse on Vogue covers may seem frivolous to those outside of the world of fashion, the controversy surrounding the February issue warrants an examination of its implications.
While the digital edition features Vice President Harris in a perfectly tailored powder blue suit from the Michael Kors Collection, the Vice President is dressed much more casually in the print cover, styled in a black Donald Deal blazer paired with black denim and Converse sneakers. If you were to ask anyone which version appears more becoming, they would almost certainly say the digital edition. Despite the obvious attention to detail in referencing Alpha Kappa Alpha — Vice President Kamala Harris’s Howard University sorority — in the photograph’s color palette, the print cover doesn’t live up to Vogue’s fashion-forward reputation. The approach to the print cover seems lackluster, even, harkening back to pedestrian renditions of the magazine in the “#VogueChallenge” that swept social media last summer.
Recreating the February cover would be as easy as plucking the Vice President up from any time during her 2020 campaign trail and having her pose in front of a makeshift backdrop. For many, however, that’s the issue. They believe that the public shouldn’t feel overly comfortable with the Vice President, as comfort begets disrespect. To an extent, they are correct. Presenting the first African American and Asian American woman to hold the vice presidency in such a casual manner. One could argue it might lead to United States citizens not taking her seriously, something made a bigger challenge by her status as the first female Vice President.
At the same time, Vice President Kamala Harris’ styling on the cover is authentic to her. As shown in her relatively casual campaign attire, she herself wants to be perceived as down-to-earth and relatable. If the Vice President had dressed in tweed Chanel ensembles during her campaign, Vogue likely would have styled her in just that on the print cover.
Notably, the digital and print covers were both shot by Tyler Mitchell, a Black photographer who made history as the first African American to shoot a Vogue cover when he photographed Beyonce for the September 2018 issue, so it is unlikely that the artistic choices resulted from ill will on the part of the team at Vogue. Nonetheless, hopefully Vogue’s offer to provide print copies of the Vice President’s digital cover will quell those who are unhappy with the print cover.
The fact that Vogue chose to put the Vice President on the cover of its February issue is itself unprecedented, as the First Lady is typically selected for this role. Vice President Kamala Harris was presumably chosen due to the historic nature of her election as the first female Vice President, but to expect the highest level of fashion from a woman in her position presents a problematic double standard. No one paid much attention to the wardrobe of male Vice President in the past, and this should not change for Vice President Kamala Harris just because she is a woman. What’s more important is that she fulfills her role in leading the country without being subjected to antiquated female stereotypes.
—Staff Writer Chibuike K. Uwakwe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chibbyu.
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