To accept her nomination as the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris addressed a sparsely attended room at the Democratic National Convention’s stage Wednesday night. But her speech — and wardrobe — filled the virtual screen.
Wearing a maroon colored double breasted pantsuit and matching silk blouse, Harris accented her outfit with demure pumps (barely visible under the hemline of her pants), a large pair of pearl and gold earrings and a double strand of white pearls around her neck, created by jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth.
It’s not the first time. Pearls have become a familiar part of the California senator’s professional wear, as recognizable to Harris as Nancy Pelosi’s power pumps. It’s quickly become her sartorial emblem for professional dress (off duty, sneakers are her trademark).
Harris has actually worn them for years. In 2011 as California’s new attorney general, she wore a double strand of white pearls around her neck. When she announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in California, she began to wear a necklace made of black pearls. Now, Harris is wearing the strand by Neuwirth, a series of Akoya and South Sea pearls on a delicate yellow gold chain link necklace. She wore them for her DNC speech Wednesday night but also at the announcement her nomination last week, when both Biden and Harris wore matching navy blue suits; he with a tie and she with her pearls. It’s safe to say that this necklace is her 2020 election strand.
But there’s more to the jewelry than just prim decoration to a suit. Known as the world’s oldest gemstone, pearls form in bodies of water when a foreign object lodges itself inside a mollusk’s shell. To defend itself from the object, the mollusk coats it in layer upon layer of a strong, resilient substance called nacre, which is what provides a pearl’s iridescent sheen. The result is a pearl.
The way in which it is formed has provided plenty of symbolism to the pearl. It’s a symbol of long life and fertility, of hidden knowledge, of good luck and wealth, of purity, and of wisdom gained through experience. Countless civilizations, from ancient China to 16th century Central and South America and yes, the Egypt of Cleopatra, have counted the pearl as an object of the utmost significance.
The pearl has also been adopted by Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically African-American Greek-letter sorority, which was formed in 1908 at Howard University. Upon initiation to the sorority, each member receives a pearl necklace with 20 pearls on it: 16 of the pearls represent the sorority’s founding members and the remaining four represent the women who incorporated the organization.
While attending Howard as an undergrad in the early ’80s, Harris pledged to AKA and remains an active member. In her speech, she counted the sorority as “family.”
And she’s got the pearls to prove it.