State of the Union: Color Me Purple

Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi All Adorned Purple

January 28, 2010, 1:36 PM

Jan. 28, 2010— -- President Obama's decisive tone at the State of the Union address may have grabbed much of the attention Wednesday night, but the attendees' fashion choices -- and the popularity of the color purple -- didn't go unnoticed.

Purple was the fashion highlight of the night. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wore a lavender suit. Vice President Biden, seated right next to her, wore a purple tie with stripes. First lady Michelle Obama paired a raisin-colored shirt with a plum skirt designed by Isaac Mizrahi.

Not since George W. Bush's State of the Union in February 2005 has there been such a burst of purple at this annual event. Back then, attendees wore purple ties or suits and stained their fingers with purple ink to celebrate the elections in Iraq, the first since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by U.S. forces.

The State of the Union wardrobe choices often tend to be shaded by party colors -- Democrats wear blue, Republicans add a dash of red -- which is why last night's purple trends set the Web world on fire.

"Apparently, purple is Obama's new team color. A little purple America, anyone?" conservative columnist Jillian Bandes wrote on the blog

Did the first lady, Biden and Pelosi really coordinate the colors? Was there any political symbolism behind the chosen color?

"Certainly, you had to wonder. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi looked so coordinated. ... We know the first lady has used her fashion and style to convey a message before," Mary Tomer, who runs a blog, Mrs., dedicated to the first lady's fashion, told ABC News. "I think there is a lot of merit in wondering if it wasn't symbolic."

Some suggested that the color purple represents bipartisanship: It's not red or blue but middle-of-the-road. In elections, swing states are often referred to as purple states.

And in keeping with the theme of the president's State of the Union address last night, some commentators said the fashion choices may very well have been deliberate. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos suggested that there was probably some level of calculation that went into the wardrobe choices.

"There is kind of a connotation in politics that comes through color," Tomer said. "I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think purple could've been chosen symbolically."

Others say it is unlikely the three deliberated beforehand on their color scheme. Michelle Obama has, after all, worn shades of purple plenty of times before. The sleeveless dress she wore -- and which caused much controversy -- at her husband's address to Congress last year was also deep purple.

"It seemed more like a coincidence to me. And the first lady has worn those sorts of complex colors before," Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan told ABC News.

State of the Union Fashion

Well, if not bipartisanship, what else could the color purple mean?

"I'm sure there's a lot of different ways you can go with this, depending on the blogosphere," joked Michael Clements, executive editor at Washington Life magazine.

Some suggest that purple is a natural choice for such a forum.

"In Roman times, it was considered the color of royalty," Clements said.

Some blogs suggested that it was in solidarity with Haiti, although it's a mystery just what Haiti's connection is with the color purple.

Others pointed out that purple was the color of the suffragist movement.

The first lady's office declined to comment on Michelle Obama's color choice. Pelosi's office said the wave of purple was merely a coincidence, at least on her part.

Obama, Biden and Pelosi weren't the only heavy-hitters wearing the popular color. House Minority Leader John Boehner also wore a light purple tie. Even several guests, including Rebecca Knerr, a guest of Michelle Obama's, who sat next to her, wore purple.

Knerr was a guest of the first lady and represented her husband, firefighter Capt. II Joseph Knerr, who is currently serving in Haiti. Knerr herself is a former firefighter and paramedic.

In attendance at the State of the Union were also many bright red and yellow suits, a departure from the sober colors that sometimes define political events. And the change did not go unnoticed.

"Hillary Clinton didn't attend Barack Obama's first State of the Union address last night, but she was there in spirit, fashionwise if not in other ways we're not qualified to discuss," quipped an article in today's New York magazine.

"Bright yellow was a disturbingly popular choice," the article said. "Oh, Washington: Why? We don't expect this crew to be poring over runway slideshows and reading fashion magazines to keep up with the latest trends, but even that's not required for most people to look in the mirror and have even a vague notion that the look isn't flattering for probably anyone (it was questionable on Cher in "Clueless"), and that many other options would look better."

Experts say with the number of women in Congress growing, expect the trend of bright colors to continue.

"I think the composition of Congress has changed, and there's more women, and I think because of that you're going to have more color," Clements said. "I think women have the ability to have a lot of different fashion choices than men."

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