When Hillary Clinton showed up to the inauguration of her former rival Donald Trump on Friday, her outfit made a striking statement. She wore an all-white suit — making a not-so-subtle reference to the women’s suffrage movement.
It’s an especially striking choice on the eve of the Women’s March on Washington, which promises to draw massive crowds of people aiming to remind Trump of the importance of a famous Clinton quote: “Women’s rights are human rights.” The march will also echo another inauguration protest — the 1913 women’s suffrage parade that ended violently, but galvanized support for passing the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote in 1920.
It’s not unheard of for women to wear white at the inauguration. Indeed, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump both wore all white too, perhaps in reference to their support for women’s issues. Laura Bush also wore all white in 2005 at her husband’s second inauguration.
But a woman politician wearing all white has particular historical meaning, one that women who set political milestones have often been conscious of. Geraldine Ferraro wore all white when she became the first woman to accept the vice presidential nomination of a major party in 1984. Shirley Chisholm wore all white in 1969 when she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and again three years later when she became the first African-American woman to run for a major party’s nomination for president.
White, purple, and gold were the official colors of the National Women’s Party and the suffragist movement. According to the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage‘s statement of purpose, the colors were chosen deliberately: purple for “loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause,” gold for “the color of light and life and “the torch that guides our purpose.” And white, “the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose.”
Clinton wore purple when she gave her concession speech — which was all about staying devoted to causes, even in the face of setbacks and disappointments like the one she had just experienced.
But she wore all white at some of her most triumphant moments on the campaign trail: the night she officially won enough delegates in the primary to clinch the nomination, the night she officially accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, and the night she faced off against Donald Trump in the third and final presidential debate.
After her stunning loss, it wasn’t a given that Clinton would attend Donald Trump’s inauguration at all. On the one hand, her husband Bill is a former president, and former presidents traditionally attend inaugurations. (That’s the case this year with the exception of George H. W. Bush, who is recovering from being admitted to the hospital earlier this week.) Then again, defeated presidential candidates aren’t usually expected to attend the inauguration of their former rival.
Seeing Clinton not just attend the inauguration, but wear all white like she did in the most hopeful moments of her campaign, looks like both a refusal to back down in defeat, and a nod to the importance of the day.