Scroll through the Instagram account hillarystreetstyle, and you’ll find more than 100 colorful collages of Hillary Clinton. The feed puts her next to best-dressed regulars like Rihanna and Gigi Hadid, juxtaposing her past and present outfits with the latest looks worn by celebrities.
Remember Beyoncé’s electric-yellow pantsuit? Well, Clinton wore it first more than a decade ago, with pearls and a straw hat to top it off. She also rocked red before Ken Bone. And then there’s Clinton in between Anna Wintour, the real-life queen of fashion, and Olivia Pope, the fictional queen inside the Beltway. They’re all wearing clean white trench coats.
The woman behind hillarystreetstyle is just one of many on social media who’ve dubbed Clinton a sartorial star. Tired of being criticized for their own appearance, they’re embracing the presidential candidate’s fashion, from bold nail art to memes of photos with the former First Lady’s forehead and the punchline “Eyebrow Goals: Hillary Clinton 1992.” They’ve adopted Clinton as a symbol of girl power.
This election has been one of the most heated in recent history, and women have watched her confront Donald Trump over and over again when he attacked her as lacking that “presidential look,” or when he called women “pigs,” “dogs,” and “slobs,” or when he excused his comments about groping women as locker-room talk.
The creator of hillarystreetstyle, a New York lawyer who asked to remain anonymous, said she started the account this spring to counterbalance the bias she saw. She felt there was too much of a negative focus about Clinton being a woman.
“At this point in the election, it’s retail therapy. It’s just to have fun, but at the beginning, it was more to open up a conversation,” she said, adding that she is not affiliated with the Clinton campaign. “I wanted to provide a space for people to look at Hillary’s looks, to look at celebrity looks, to think about fashion and relate to it on a personal level.”
Some women have even launched a business inspired by Clinton’s style. A year ago, Meredith Fineman, 29, who runs a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., and her best friend, Morgan Gerard, who is a 27-year old attorney, started selling scrunchies with printed caricatures of Clinton’s face for $10.99 each. They advertise them as “100% cotton, 100% feminist, 100% made in the USA.”
Scrunchies fell out of fashion in the ’90s, but Clinton used them to pull her hair back during her busy globe-trotting days as secretary of state. Headlines poked fun, her staff tried to ban them, and Oscar de la Renta, a designer and friend, told her to cut her hair.
“It’s been a fun, tongue-and-cheek reference and kind of a ‘screw you’ to people who’ve criticized her,” Fineman said, adding that she couldn’t believe that her campaign didn’t include the throwback hair ties as part of her official merchandise.
She said they’ve sold thousands of scrunchies so far. Now they’re working on a Michelle Obama version with her flexing her arms.
Some supporters and feminists find all this fashion talk to be more of a distraction. They want to see more discussion about Clinton’s ideas.
“I think it’s cool to reclaim fashion, but this is a political campaign,” said Herlinda Aguirre, 26, an organizer at a community center in San Francisco.
But Clinton herself seems to have embraced the movement. In her Twitter bio, she not only calls herself a senator, secretary of state, and presidential candidate but also a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado.” On her Instagram, she posted a Throwback Thursday of herself wearing a wide-brimmed fedora saying, “’80s fashion wasn’t all bad.” The photo garnered more than 18,000 likes.
Clinton’s campaign has used fashion to reintroduce their candidate to a young generation of voters, who know her name but may know little about her. Staffers have also flooded social media with old photos of her as a little girl, a dedicated student, a gung-ho public servant, and a young mom.
“We always found archival photos to be incredibly popular as another way for people to feel a closer connection to our candidate,” said Laura Olin, who ran the Obama campaign’s social media in 2012 and now works as a consultant to the Clinton campaign through the marketing consultancy Precision Strategies.
The tactic appears to be working. Appreciating her sense of fashion, women are sharing the photos across the internet. On Instagram, jewelry designer Sophie Buhai posted a picture of Clinton wearing a Donna Karan shoulderless dress to her first state dinner in 1993 and called her a “fox.”
Others are taking it a step further and adopting the look for themselves. Lena Dunham, creator of the television show Girls, paid tribute to Clinton and that same dress by uploading a picture of herself wearing a similar sweater in a side-by-side collage on Instagram.
There’s one look of Clinton’s that has stood out above all, catalyzing a cult following: the pantsuit. Once mocked, her signature uniform is now seen as representing her professionalism and pragmatism.
The look has inspired Libby Chamberlain, a 33-year-old educational counselor in Maine, to create a Facebook group and declare Election Day, November 8, as “National Pantsuit Day.” She wants to convince as many supporters as possible to join her in wearing a pantsuit to the voting booth, and then share a selfie across social media with #pantsuitnation.
“It wasn’t until the 1990s that women were even allowed to wear pantsuits on the Senate floor,” she said. “What better way to celebrate this historic election and celebrate a candidate we are so passionate about.”
She came up with the idea after a friend told Chamberlain about having to defend Clinton’s clothing choices to a group of young women after the last presidential debate. They talked about how her pantsuit was an emblem of the hard-fought cultural battles of Clinton’s generation, which might be lost in younger circles. In about two and a half weeks, membership to the invite-only page has swelled to 1.75 million people, some of whom have shared stories about what Clinton’s candidacy means to them.
“I wanted to do something to reappropriate that symbol and everything that it means to me as a feminist and Clinton supporter,” Chamberlain said.
But Dr. Jane Katcher, a 71-year-old supporter of the Democratic nominee, didn’t remember Clinton as ever being a style icon.
“I’ve seen her wearing pantsuits for 20 years,” said the retired pediatric radiologist in Miami. “It’s not news to me. That’s what professional clothing looks like.”
Her voice, though, seems to be a minority. Events celebrating Clinton are promoting pantsuits as a rallying point. At a concert for the candidate last Friday in Cleveland, Ohio, Beyoncé and her dancers performed “Formation” in pantsuits. She wore black with white polka dots. They wore matching blue.
Some 200 people also wore a rainbow array of pantsuits last month at a flash mob in New York City. They danced for Clinton to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s pop song “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” When the video went viral, a group of mothers and daughters were so inspired by it that they organized a flash mob of their own in Berkeley, California.
More than a dozen little girls—and one boy—danced in T-shirts bearing Clinton’s logo and “The Future Is Female” under oversized blazers in an approximation of a pantsuit. Music pumped into the streets as they jumped around performing a routine they practiced for three hours every night for a week.
“I’m with her!” they shouted in the middle of a closed-off intersection downtown.
Ten-year-old Tessa Rose-Scheeres, who choreographed the dance, likened Trump to a playground bully and said Clinton stands up for herself. Clinton shows that girls can do anything, she added.
“When I wear this, I feel strong,” she said while straightening her bright red jacket. “I’m going to start wearing it to school.”