This year's State of the Union address (SOTU) was packed with drama to say the least. From Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ripping up President Donald J. Trump’s speech to some representatives boycotting, the night was quite theatrical. But among the most discussed parts of the night was the choice of clothing Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wore.
Since last year, women have worn Suffragette white as a way to pay homage to the suffragettes and to show women around the country that the women in Congress would continue to champion them. Wearing white was of course a nod to the white worn by the Suffragettes who rocked the color as a sign of purity and virtue.
This year, the women kept with the tradition, as did Tlaib and Omar. The only difference was that Tlaib and Omar switched it up by wearing their traditional Palestinian and Somali clothes.
Tlaib, who is Palestinian, showed up in a white Palestinian Thobe while Omar, who is Somalian, wore traditional Somali clothing which she said was her “Ayeeyo’s Cambuur garbeed.”
Their Palestinian and Somalian clothing became the subject of debate as some argued that their clothes were not elegant enough being that the SOTU address is black-tie event.
But both Tlaib and Omar looked beautiful and classy, so what was the problem?
Because it wasn’t that Tlaib and Omar were dressed unprofessionally. It was that they were not dressed as the typical Western idea of elegant or black-tie.
Furthermore, this notion that one has to fit a specific American norm, such as what we typically consider black-tie, is not only wrong, but also I’m tired of hearing it.
There is more than one way to do anything, and that includes how to dress and how to be American.
Fashion can be plain or it can be radical, and if it wasn’t such a big deal we wouldn't be talking about this and there wouldn't be fashion weeks, an Anna Wintour, or a multi-billion dollar fashion industry that would crash the economy if it ever failed.
How you dress not only keeps you clothed and warm, but also it sends a message about you. Do you wear a suit, a Hawaiian shirt with flip-flops or a fur bikini? You get the picture.
So why wouldn't the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress pay homage to their culture in the same way the women in Congress pay homage to their history? Is it only acceptable if that history is white and “American”?
We know how you dress sends a message and I could only imagine that for Muslims, Palestinians and Somalians, the fact that Tlaib and Omar dressed in their traditional clothes, authentic to their culture, sends a message that their voices matter in government — that they are seen.
I find it quite American for Tlaib and Omar to have dressed in their traditional clothing. This country after all isn’t even ours in the first place. We live in a country that was colonized by Europeans and in the centuries preceding, became a melting pot of all different races due to slavery and immigration. So who’s to say which Americans can stay true to their cultures and which ones can’t? Is it only allowed if your ancestor was Susan B. Anthony and not if it was Wangari Maathai or Frida Kahlo?
Fashion is powerful: The suffragettes knew that, the Congresswomen dressed in white know that and so do Tlaib and Omar who not only dressed in white, but also intertwined their cultures as well.
That in itself is not only beautiful, but also truly elegant and 100 percent “American.”