A Look At Shirley Chisholm’s Unapologetic Style

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As America celebrated Hillary Clinton as the first female presidential nominee for a major party, some people were quick to remind the public of the legendary Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm got her start in politics in 1968 as the first Black Congresswoman and later was the first female of African descent to run for the United States presidency. She was not selected for the 1972 Democratic bid, but her brave run broke barriers. “She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us,” said the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Robert E. Williams of the politician.

Aside from making monumental firsts, Chisholm was an advocate for better education and employment opportunities for minorities, and she opposed the 1969 U.S. military draft. She was also an ardent feminist who helped influence America’s second-wave feminism movement.

William Howard, Chisholm’s former campaign treasurer, described her personality as,“ Anyone that came in contact with her, they had a feeling of a careness, and they felt that she was very much a part of each individual as she represented her district.” As she advocated for progress, Chisholm also had to deal with hate and criticism for being a Black female politician, which she battled with a clear mind and passion.

What’s also memorable about Chisholm was her political fashions. Just like her beliefs and policies, her form of dressing was unflappable.

Chisholm’s Fashion

Throughout her career, Chisholm sported a sculpted bouffant, cat-eye glasses, and ladylike suits. The politician often embraced bright colors and prints, which ranged from a classic white 1960s boxy skirt suit to a silken ensemble accessorized with a bundle of pearls. “She always wore suits, little suits…I say little suits because she was a small woman…I don’t think she wore pants,” Congresswoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke recalled about Shirley’s wardrobe. “ I remember she always ordered her clothes. We didn’t have Internet at the time, but she always ordered them over various manufacturers.”

Throughout her time in American politics, Chisholm did not hide her femininity.  Instead, she understood and kept her own personal style despite the political and social repercussions of being a Black woman in American politics.

Three years after her death in 2008, artist Kadir Nelson painted a portrait of Chisholm. She is depicted standing in a three-quarter stance with her arms crossed and her index finger raised. This piece is noted for its display of the Congresswoman’s firm manner, but it also illustrates her colorful taste in clothing. In a similar manner to Chisholm’s style, painted is a structured 1960s suit set in a blue and white geometric pattern. Also displayed is her signature bouffant and cat-eye glasses, which added to Chisholm’s no-nonsense look.

To learn more about Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, visit her page at the History, Art, and Archives of the US House of Representatives website.


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