Kamala Harris is wearing Chuck Taylors and I’m all for it
By making a definite fashion statement about comfortable footwear, Kamala Harris has taken a bold step forward for women everywhere.
The Democratic vice presidential candidate took a campaign trip to Wisconsin on Labor Day to speak to Black union members, business leaders, and the family of Jacob Blake, the Kenosha man shot seven times in the back by police and who is still hospitalized. It would be a day with much running back and forth, so she chose her shoes with care — classic Converse All-Stars from Chuck Taylor, or “Chucks,” as they’re sometimes known.
It isn’t that long ago that such a footwear choice might have raised some eyebrows. And although the shoes were noted on Twitter, they barely rated a mention from reporters.
Actually, various news organizations did mention her choice of footwear, but always in a way that basically said, “It’s about damn time.” As Harris told New York Magazine in 2018:
I run through airports in my Converse sneakers. I have a whole collection of Chuck Taylors: a black leather pair, a white pair, I have the kind that don’t lace, the kind that do lace, the kind I wear in the hot weather, the kind I wear in the cold weather, and the platform kind for when I’m wearing a pantsuit.
Since Joe Biden chose the California senator as a running mate, the world has learned that Harris is a first in many ways as a candidate, being Black and the child of two immigrants. “She is also the first to prominently wear sneakers on the campaign trail,” said a story in The Guardian.
Yes, Harris has worn her Chuck Taylors many times while campaigning. Doesn’t that just make sense? Candidates are mostly on their feet, whether they’re giving speeches, answering questions at a town hall, meeting and talking to voters, or chomping on an ear of corn at the Iowa State Fair. Any women forced to wear high heels for hours on end has pinched toes and sore feet at the end of the day.
One supporter even personalized her own shoes.
When Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith declared her candidacy for president in 1964, she became the first woman to actively seek the presidential nomination of a major political party and took her candidacy all the way to the convention. A newsreel from January 1964 with her announcement was labeled, “Bonnet in the Ring” (I am not making that up).
Her Senate office was inundated with deliveries of women’s hats as gifts, such as this one sent by Rose Hornstein of the Glen Ellyn Hat Shop in Illinois. The description reads, “It is made of pink netting material and has silk flowers glued all over it. It has a pink velvet headband and a label inside the hat states ‘Juli-Kay Chicago.’ “
Somehow, I doubt that many people sent hats to Barry Goldwater, who ended up with the nomination.
After her announcement at the National Women’s Press Club (apparently even those kinds of political speeches were separated by gender in those days), she answered some questions:
MODERATOR: What would you do as a candidate to break down discrimination against women?
SMITH: Well, if the people of this country don’t know what I would do from what I have done, I don’t think that I could add any information to that.
Yes, some things such as discrimination against women haven’t changed.
Many women still wore hats in the 1960s, and most weren’t throwing them into political rings. Even when more women started running for office, they were often held to different and higher fashion standards than men. Suits with skirts were expected.
The group “Name it. Change it,” a nonpartisan joint project of the Women’s Media Center and She Should Run, works to identify, prevent, and end sexist media coverage of female candidates. Its extensive research gives numerous examples of such coverage of female candidates of both parties. Examples include a Boston radio station endorsing a female candidate because she had a “banging little body” and a “tight little butt,” and a male pundit describing a female candidate as being “absolutely adorable.”
But the sexism doesn’t have to be so blatant. “When the media focuses on a woman candidate’s appearance, she pays a price in the polls,” one of the group’s studies found. “This finding held true whether the coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance was framed positively, negatively, or in neutral terms.”
Hillary Clinton broke ground when she ran for New York senator in 2000 and wore her trademark black pantsuits on the campaign trail. In her victory speech that November, she joked, “62 counties, 16 months, three debates, two opponents, and six black pantsuits later, because of you, here we are.”
Anyone watching the multiple Democratic women running for president this election cycle saw them dressed more comfortably in pantsuits, jackets, and slacks than dresses in nearly all campaign appearances. The same was true for the debate stage, from Tulsi Gabbard’s signature white pantsuit to the darker shades adopted by other candidates. It’s just not an issue anymore.
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many women are working from home. Gone are business suits and high heels. Loose, comfortable clothing like sweatpants and sneakers rule the day. When those women do go back to the office, I think they’ll leave the high heels in the closet.
It’s about time that women running for office aren’t evaluated by what they’re wearing and measured by what they stand for.
And thanks to the example set by Kamala Harris, as long as those women are running, more are going to be wearing comfortable shoes.