The day was sober, no matter what side of the Trump impeachment debate one might be on. It was a sad day, on that there was bipartisan agreement.
And for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was at the center of it all, it was a day for mournful black, not power pink. Not resistance white.
The members of the House of Representatives, their round congressional pins displayed prominently, so many rank and file faces unfamiliar to the public at large, arrived Wednesday on Capitol Hill with an extra coat of polish for the historical impeachment vote.
The momentous event was preceded by raw and bellicose 60-second, 90-second and two-minute speeches on live television. Although not every single person made a concerted effort to wear their Sunday best as they stood in the glow of national TV, most men looked as though they’d just pulled the packing cardboard out of their dress shirt, took a little more mirror time with their tie and made sure they slipped into their good suit — the new one that fits especially well.
The women were duly accessorized with their eagle brooches, their gumball necklaces and their discreet earrings. How many hair stylists were up early for impeachment day blow-outs? The gentleladies were not merely leaning into vanity, that often misunderstood commitment to caring about how one moves through this world. They were taking a moment to feel pulled together and sharp. They wanted to be their best selves on one of the nation’s worst days.
Attire is no small thing. It’s an integral part of the formal particulars of the impeachment process — a process that allowed for members debating the rules, voting on the rules and imagining conversations with their children and grandchildren about their role in the ultimate decision.
The road to this day has been fraught and exhausting for a populace hoarse from resisting and defending. It has often seemed as though the only thing keeping Congress tethered to a pebble of civility was attire — the suits and power dresses serving as reminders that governing should not be a boxing match. Legislating is not a casual affair. Representatives should not be comfortable and at ease because defending the Constitution requires uncomfortable, difficult decisions. It’s hard; and one should sit up straight and not get too relaxed until the job is done.
The clothes aren’t the equivalent of substance, of course; they’re costumes. But any actor will tell you that proper costuming is essential to slipping convincingly into the role. Costumes remind the players who they’re supposed to be even if embodying that person is at best an aspiration and at worst a ruse.
The woman in charge, Madam Speaker, arrived on the House floor wearing a black sheath with bracelet sleeves and matching pumps. The dress’s funnel neckline opened slightly for a little breathing room. It was a style that would have been appropriate for a funeral and reflected Pelosi’s grave remarks: “Our founders’ vision of a republic is under threat from actions from the White House,” Pelosi said. “That is why today, as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States. If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.”
As she spoke, it was impossible to miss the large golden mace brooch pinned to the left side of her chest. It is an eagle with its wings spread, perched on a pearl mounted on a sheath of gilded rods.
This Ann Hand brooch, which exudes majesty and power and old Washington style, was inspired by the mace of the House of Representatives. The original artifact, created in 1841, sits in the House chamber and serves as a symbol of the sergeant at arms’ authority as well as his or her role in maintaining decorum. The historic mace is composed of an eagle atop a silver globe on which the world’s continents are etched. The central shaft is actually 13 bundled rods representing the original colonies, along with the idea that we are stronger together than we are individually.
Throughout the long day, the mace stood just beyond the speaker’s chair. It has long been there, and presumably it always will be. It’s represented the role of Congress and it’s been a call for comity. But it has also become a symbol of endurance.
Pelosi dressed for a funeral and her tone was dire. But her glittery brooch made clear that it was not the republic she had come to bury.