She will not use fashion as a shield against the world. She will not gird herself in glamour, or arm herself with gilded European brand names. She is certainly not a trophy sitting on a shelf.
As the Democratic Party’s experiment in remote conventioning continued with Day 2 on Tuesday, Dr. Jill Biden brought the effort to present her husband, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as the anti-Trump in character and conviction to a personal close, and played her part in the drama. After all, if he is the presidential alternative, so she, too, is the current first lady’s.
First lady is an odd role, as many historians have pointed out: unelected, yet also crucial to fleshing out the humanity of a president, and the parts of a candidate that resonate with voters. That’s why the spouse gets a keynote during the convention, and also why traditionally so much attention to paid to what she wears: why, for example, her clothes can end up in a museum, and why the first lady is sometimes treated like the first influencer. (Why, when it comes time for a first man, his clothes will matter, too.)
The first spouse is a key part of the image-making.
To that end, in her convention segment Dr. Biden stood in an empty school hallway in Wilmington, Del., a nod to her academic accomplishments and record as a teacher — a job that aides have said she plans to continue in the White House.
She began speaking and strolled into the high school classroom where she once taught. She talked about family and loss, the pandemic and parents, and how love — and her husband — can put things back together. About caring for one another as individuals and as a nation. At the end, her husband popped out from the wings to give her a kiss, and praise. It was a moving scene, in all senses.
She wore a chalkboard-green coatdress, buttoned down the left side, and very little jewelry. Yet despite praise from excited viewers, some of whom wanted to know where to get the look, it had, by Wednesday morning, gone unclaimed.
That may not seem worthy of mention, but in a world where it has become rote for public figures to namecheck their designers — see the convention moderator of the night, Tracee Ellis Ross, who thanked Proenza Schouler on Instagram for her burgundy look. And for a woman who spent eight years adjacent to Michelle Obama, whose every outfit set off a frenzy, it was a meaningful choice.
It wasn’t the most interesting of the night. That honor has to go to some of the individual roll call electors, who represented not just the nominating choices of the 57 states and territories but also a veritable rainbow of dress. Floral crowns! Plaid shirts! Scrubs! They were all there. Plus a lot more.
Still, Dr. Biden’s look reinforced the folksiness that has become part of Biden lore, and the couple’s relatability, just as her words underscored her husband’s empathy (as the segment about his Amtrak friends did on Day 1). And it provided a clear contrast with Melania Trump, who has costumed herself for the last three years in the glossiest of aspirational designer names and let them largely do the speaking for her.
In her coatdress, Dr. Biden looked comfortable and pulled together. She looked like everyone’s teacher: familiar but also a little bossy.
The biographical video montage that preceded the speech and invited viewers into her life had set the stage. There she was: as a young mother, as a partner; in mourning, in joy. There she was, getting ready to run … a marathon? Just around the block? Both. She was wearing leggings and an old T-shirt; the uniform of the working-from-home pandemic.
It created a jolt of recognition: Oh, I know her.