Why Kamala Harris' Converse Are Much More Than Just Sneakers

Melissa Goldberg
·6 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images/Converse
Photo credit: Getty Images/Converse

From Oprah Magazine

Anyone who knows me will tell you: If I can wear sneakers—and, honestly, even if I can't wear sneakers—I will wear sneakers.

To a fancy work event? Check. To a black-tie wedding? Yep, I've done that too. And if I have sneakers on, they're probably white Kenneth Cole KAM leather sneakers. At any given time, not only will you find a couple of pairs sitting in my closet (in varying degrees of scruffiness), but there will also be at least one set still in the box—purchased simply because they were on sale.

Which is why one of the very first things I noticed about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was that she, too, has a penchant for a particular pair of kicks: Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers.

In the past three months, she's worn them to speak (and dance) at a drive-in rally in Orlando, to attend a voter mobilization event in Las Vegas, to walk around downtown Salt Lake City, to greet crowds of supporters lining the streets (many of whom were sporting their own pairs of Chucks), to appear on an episode of Desus & Mero ("I just love them!" she told the talk-show hosts. "It's either Chucks or heels...always has been."), to tour training facilities in Milwaukee, and, yes, to step off the jet planes that help her traverse the country as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

"Chuck Taylors are trending lol," her sister, Maya Harris tweeted after a video of her arrival in Milwaukee went viral. "Yes, they are in fact her go-to."

View this post on Instagram

Laced up and ready to win.

A post shared by Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on Sep 7, 2020 at 2:24pm PDT

But if you've been paying attention to her style for a while, you know the classic, cool, comfortable sneakers (along with her pearl necklaces) have been a staple of the senator’s wardrobe for some time. "I have a whole collection of Chuck Taylors: a black leather pair, a white pair, I have the kind that don’t lace, the kind that do lace, the kind I wear in the hot weather, the kind I wear in the cold weather, and the platform kind for when I’m wearing a pantsuit," she told The Cut in 2018. (And she even has a sequined pair that she's yet to break in, according to The Washington Post.)

During a stop on her presidential campaign, Harris visited a New Hampshire farm, where it was too muddy to move comfortably in heels. When she realized she had forgotten to bring her Chucks, a staffer lent Harris her own, which she wore throughout the event. Last year, journalist Erica Warner tweeted that Harris had even tried wearing Converse into the congressional chamber, which has a strict dress code, and was told she had to enter through the cloakroom instead. "I think there is," Kamala said when asked about the chance of a loosened up dress code in a Biden-Harris White House. "But it's not about loosening up—it's about lacing up!"

But Harris has been wearing her trusty Converse long before she hit the campaign trail or Capitol Hill—though to much less fanfare. During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Harris's husband, Douglass Emhoff, revealed that she even wore Chuck Taylors when she first met his kids, Cole and Ella. "The Kamala Harris I know wears Chucks and jeans," he later tweeted. "And now you all know too!

While Harris's signature shoe style might not seem like a big deal—and yes, it isn't as significant as, say, the fact that she's the first Black woman and first Indian American vice president, or her dedication to improving maternal health care in the U.S.—they do send a message about who she is and her approach to politics.

Just like her pointed questions during high-profile Senate hearings, Harris's sneakers (intentionally or not) communicate that she's the no-nonsense type who's more focused on being practical, than progressive. "The sneakers are acting as the sartorial equivalent of being willing to roll up her sleeves," Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, told The Guardian.

Not to mention that unlike Common Projects or Golden Goose kicks, Harris's retro-style sneakers are accessible and familiar to people—regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. "Whatever your background or whatever language your grandmother spoke, we all at some point or another had our Chucks, right?" Harris said during an interview with Complex. In that sense, her choice of footwear not only indicates that she understands and relates to the average American, but she's also—literally—down to earth. That was exactly the point she pushed on her own presidential campaign, in which she had a "3 A.M. Agenda" focused on tackling the issues that voters thought about while lying awake in the middle of the night. (Another option, of course, is that maybe she just likes being comfortable.)

While Converse sneakers are hardly new among athletes, artists, actors, musicians, and everyday people, they never really found their place in the world of politics—which isn't surprising given that until 1993, there was an unofficial rule that women must wear dresses or skirts on the Senate floor. In fact, throughout the course of American history, the sight of a politician wearing anything but a wingtip, kitten heel, or stiletto—let alone sneaker—has been rare.

That changed slightly in 2013, when Texas state senator Wendy Davis memorably staged an 11-hour filibuster of an abortion bill while wearing a pair of pink Mizuno running shoes. Since then, though, sneaker sightings among the political set have been few and far between. (It's worth shouting out, however, the time Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proudly tweeted a picture of the sneakers she wore while campaigning for her House seat, and the moments Sen. Elizabeth Warren slipped into sneakers at a few of her presidential campaign events.)

But now, Harris is taking the simple, straightforward style a step further into the political mainstream—which seems like a fitting nod to her trailblazing career. Not only was she the first woman and person of color to be elected district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, but she was also the state's first African American senator, and the country's first South Asian American senator. And that, in my opinion, is a well-heeled step in the right direction.

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