The nomination of Kamala Harris as the Democratic V.P. candidate and running mate of Joe Biden is truly groundbreaking. She is the first woman of color to be on a major party presidential ticket.
She’s also the first one to wear sneakers on the campaign trail.
While this detail is admittedly way less important than the VP candidate’s stance on crucial policies — especially at a critical time for the U.S. — Harris’s choice of footwear is still groundbreaking in its own way, as a symbol of the cultural, social and political changes happening everywhere right now.
Sneakers in general are certainly not groundbreaking. Everyone wears them now, from office workers to moms. But consider the wardrobe of the last female vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, with her peep-toe pumps and skirt suits in 2008. And that of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton may have resurrected the pantsuit as a bona fide fashion trend, but her ballet flats and kitten heels were still very much in line with the typical wardrobe of a woman in politics.
Despite the many advancements of women in politics over the past few years — especially in the 2018 midterm elections — the expectation to conform to traditional, and sometimes outdated, codes of dress still exists.
Which is what makes Harris’s sneakers so symbolic. When the former prosecutor and U.S. Senator first hit the campaign trail as a Democratic presidential candidate in her own right in 2019, it seemed as though the only time she wasn’t in them was on the debate stage. Alongside photos of fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren, who favored sturdy flat boots, the two women conveyed a new image of what campaigning could look like.
Their wardrobe choices were no doubt meant to help the candidates look relatable. But Harris’s sneakers also conveyed a more acute sense of what change looks like. The shoes tell voters that she is just like them, wearing sneakers because they are more comfortable and look cooler. They also project an image of the future.
Of course, there’s much more to politics — and winning an election — than the shoes a candidates wears on her feet. A pair of sneakers can’t hide a politician’s voting record or past decisions.
But they can show a symbolic step forward.