Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s coat isn’t the only piece of clothing in Congress garnering attention.
The blue blazer worn by Rep. Katherine Clark during the House floor sit-in to protest the lack of legislative action to address gun violence is among a number of items being included in a new Cornell University art exhibit highlighting how women “strategically use fashion for empowerment and collective upliftment.”
Clark, who graduated from Cornell Law School in 1989, helped orchestrate the 2016 demonstration with fellow Democrat, Georgia Rep. John Lewis. The dramatic, 25-hour protest put the Massachusetts congresswoman — sitting on the floor of the chamber, beside the civil rights icon — in the middle of the national spotlight.
Denise Green, a Cornell professor and director of the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection, says that the exhibition, “WOMEN EMPOWERED: Fashions from the Frontline” explores fashion in a range of spaces where women have advocated for social justice and change. Green told Boston.com that the college reached out to Clark, as a Cornell alum working on the metaphorical frontline “every day for positive change and a safer world for all of us,” and asked if the Melrose Democrat would be willing to loan something for the exhibition.
“Some of the garments exhibited make very clear, visible statements, like a ‘Votes for Women’ sash worn by a suffragette in 1916 or an outfit covered in red ribbons worn by a mother who lost her son from an AIDS-related illness,” Green said. “Other items, like the blazer worn by Representative Clark, are included because they were worn while doing important work on the frontline — in this case, leading the sit-in on the House floor to protest the refusal to vote on two important gun control provisions after yet another mass shooting.”
In addition to Clark’s jacket, the art exhibit also includes collars worn by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and shoes worn by New York congresswoman-elect and Boston University alum Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her Democratic primary campaign, among other historic suits, gowns, and apparel.
While Ocasio-Cortez’s clothing has been subjected to unusual and perhaps sexist scrutiny since she was elected to Congress (and she is hardly the first woman to face such heightened attention), the organizers of the Cornell art exhibit say the fashion choices by female politicians, activists, and “everyday unsung heroes” can also be a positive force.
“Fashion has far too often been misunderstood and misrepresented as superficial,” Green said in a statement last week.
“The garments and accessories in this exhibition show the very opposite: fashion is a highly visible and forceful medium that commands attention and communicates possibilities,” she said. “Feminism and fashion have the potential to go hand in hand, and the pieces in this exhibition prove just that.”
The exhibit will be on display at the Ithaca, New York university’s College of Human Ecology building until the end of March.