Pelosi’s attire at retirement speech gives big clues about her future plans: legendary fashion journalist

Pelosi’s attire at retirement speech gives big clues about her future plans: legendary fashion journalist
Nancy Pelosi/Republican National Committee Photo
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With Nancy Pelosi's time as leader of congressional Democrats coming to an end, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robin Givhan examined the Speaker's "style of power."

"In her remarks, Pelosi mused about both the majesty and the fragility of democracy, the beauty of the Capitol and all it represented, and a faith that is both sacred and secular," Givhan wrote. "Her choice of attire is far from the most significant detail on this momentous occasion, but it is remarkable. As speaker, the way Pelosi entered a room, owned a room and even exited one was a complex and precise blend of preparation, confidence and style. Some might call it politic."

Givhan is currently senior critic-at-large at The Washington Post.

"As the first female speaker, she left an indelible mark on how power is viewed and processed. Pelosi broadened the visual vocabulary of what it means to throw sharp elbows," Givhan wrote. "Fashion was no longer a third rail in a conversation about her qualifications and accomplishments because her stature could not be denied. It couldn’t be diminished by an admiring acknowledgment of a well-cut suit. Fashion was not some superficial distraction; it was testimony to her attention to detail, to her understanding of symbolism, to her awareness of just how useful aesthetics can be as a form of communication and a source of pleasure."

When Pelosi regained the speaker's gavel after the 2018 midterms, Saturday Night Live featured a skit of women in the Democratic Caucus wearing suffragette white. Givhan thought there was important symbolism in how Pelosi dressed for her speech.

"The country has seen Pelosi dressed in a white suit before. It has never been a sign of surrender. She wore a double-breasted white jacket and trousers to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020. The color marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave many women the right to vote. It also reflected a white-hot fury at Trump’s rhetoric, his racism and his chaotic governing," Givhan wrote. "At the end of Trump’s address, as he was basking in applause from his fellow Republicans and shrugging off the silent glares from his Democratic rivals, Pelosi ripped the speech in half. That white suit was like a lightning bolt in a roiling political storm."

Women wearing suffragette white also became a theme in the public hearings by the House Select Committee Investigating the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Givhan said Pelosi's attire suggests she's not walking away from the fight, just stepping back from leadership.

"If there’s any note to take from her decision to wear a wintry white as she announced her plans to step away from leadership, it was that it didn’t mean she was giving up the fight," she wrote. "As speaker, she was a marvel of legislative skill. As a woman in power, she cut a path that was uniquely hers. Her lesson isn’t that fashion matters. It’s that it doesn’t have to be a contradiction."

Pelosi, first elected in 1987, will have served as leader of House Democrats for 20 years when the 118th Congress is sworn in this January.

Read the full column.

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