There’s a very good chance you won’t have noticed what Jill Biden wears. And in many ways, that’s very much the point.
With a corporate-meets-preppy aesthetic, the 69-year-old wife of Joe Biden always looks understated, elegant and relatable. And yet, while full of jubilant colours, well-cut dresses and pretty accessories, her wardrobe is not shrine to the sort of headline-grabbing designer garb that Melania Trump so favoured.
The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, Biden is a working woman, whose roles extend beyond that of a politician’s wife. A “lifelong educator,” as she refers to herself on Twitter, Biden has four university degrees and taught English full time at Northern Virginia Community College throughout both of her terms as Second Lady of the United States (her secret service detail dressed like students to blend in), making her the first ever Second Lady to hold a job while in the role.
She has vowed to continue teaching once Biden becomes President, which will be another first for a FLOTUS. “If we get to the White House, I’m gonna continue to teach,” she told CBS News in August. “It’s important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.”
It’s no wonder then that Biden has swerved the more overtly glamorous Gucci dresses, sky-high Louboutin pumps and Birkin bags favoured by Melania in favour of more classroom-friendly ensembles; with flattering shift and wrap dresses in bold, block hues (rarely does Biden do a print) a wardrobe mainstay. The appeal of these dresses lies in their versatility for long days juggling life as both teacher and one half of a political power duo: they work perfectly paired with her trusty knee-high black suede boots for day time, then look great jazzed up with her remarkably fashion-forward stiletto collection (hello J’Adior sling-backs) for more formal events.
The second reason is that the one-time model’s wholesome, family-friendly aesthetic is very much a facet of brand Biden as a whole. From middle America-pleasing stripy shirts worn with jeans, pumps and jumpers tied round her shoulders, to pashmina scarves and strings of pearls, Biden’s an expert in dressing how any middle class American woman might – and therein lies her appeal.
Never was this more evident than in her first US Vogue spread back in July 2019. Shot with her grandchildren Naomi, Finnegan, Hunter, Maisy, and Natalie at their beach house in Delaware, Biden wore an elegant-but-easy silky blue shirt alongside the children all wearing jeans and wholesome-looking woolly jumpers in pastel colours– a scene that even Vogue journalist Jonathan Van Meter admitted had “all the markers of a Ralph Lauren ad.”
But does this mean that Biden will continue to play it safe once established in the White House? If close friend and fellow democratic FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s fashion trajectory – which started with boardroom-friendly dresses and wound up in $4,000 thigh-high shimmering gold Balenciaga boots– is anything to go by, we could, with any luck, be set to witness Biden flex her fashion flare.
“Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit,” writes Michelle Obama in her memoir Becoming, in the section in which she describes how the intense scrutiny she experienced as First Lady forced her to focus on her sartorial messaging.
“I wanted to draw attention to and celebrate American designers, especially those who were less established, even if it sometimes frustrated the old guard, including Oscar de la Renta, who was reportedly displeased that I wasn’t wearing his creations.” continues Obama. “For me, my choices were simply a way to use my curious relationship with the public gaze to boost a diverse set of up-and-comers.”
While Biden, who chose to wear an asymmetrical black floral dress with draped collar from Oscar de la Renta’s resort 2020 collection for her first appearance as First Lady-to be in Delaware back in November, has ruffled no such feathers for now, her choice was yet evidence perhaps of some Obama-like sartorial diplomacy to come.
In choosing Oscar de la Renta, Biden championed a label whose joint creative directors – Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim – are both immigrants to the United States who trained under Oscar de la Renta himself before taking the reins in 2016, two years after the designer’s death. Her message was underpinned by Kamala Harris, who chose to wear the white ‘suffragette suit’ from immigrant-founded US label Carolina Herrera.
It’s this form of gentle messaging at which she’s set to excel.
The dark forest green dress from American designer Brandon Maxwell’s spring/ summer 2021 collection that she wore to make a speech to the Democratic Convention from her classroom the week prior was significant to fashion insiders for championing a young gay New York-based designer, loved by celebrities Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Her choice to re-wear a gorgeous forest green gown from sustainable fashion label Gabriela Hearst to the first presidential debate was another exercise in subtle signposting. Could there be a better way to relay silently to the audience that she and her husband care about the future of the planet?
At other times, Biden’s messaging has been bolder. Last September she also wore a pair of over-the-knee Stuart Weitzman shoes that spelled ‘VOTE’ down the leg; an example of sartorial slogans done right. At her husband’s first campaign rally in Philadelphia in May 2019, she wore a black blazer with the word ‘LOVE’ beaded in rhinestones on the back – a positive message to a city whose nickname is “The City of Brotherly Love” – that stood in stark contrast to the disastrous army green Zara jacket Melania had worn the summer before to visit migrant children at the Texas-Mexico border that had the words “I really don’t care, do u?” scrawled on the reverse.
Whatever Biden chooses to wear for the presidential inauguration on Wednesday January 20 will be immortalised in photographs shared the world over. And while the events are set to be mostly digital (and, of course, there are much more important issues facing America right now than what the FLOTUS wears), her outfit will be seen as symbolic of causes she’s set to champion over the course of her time in the White House.
While Joe Biden is reportedly set to embrace Americana in a custom-made Ralph Lauren suit, Jill is likely to choose a different label to that of her husband, while maintaining her delicate dress diplomacy. According to WWD, the designers in the running to outfit her and/or Harris include Gabriela Hearst, Wes Gordon at Carolina Herrera, Donald Deal (the creator of the brown suit Harris wore on her much maligned Vogue cover), Christian Sirano, Prabal Guruing, LaQuan Smith, Oscar de la Renta and Brandon Maxwell.
She might choose to champion a black designer, or to show support for her husband’s climate change manifesto by wearing a sustainable label. Whichever brand she chooses to platform, it’s likely the outfit will be elegant and appropriate rather than show stealing.
Biden’s wardrobe is a breath of fresh air in its un-fashionness. And given the mammoth task she and her husband face once in the White House, there’s a good chance she will want it to remain so.