Hillary Clinton received her Champion of the Century award from Planned Parenthood in shiny blazer with a cherry and lavender basketweave pattern on it. Kamala Harris chatted about her presidential campaign with members of The Wing in an electric pink suit with gold buttons. San Francisco Mayor London Breed sported a bright green blazer perched atop a St. Patrick’s Day parade float, waving at her constituents. All three of these women were wearing Argent, a suiting startup that has taken the political world by storm.
Former tech executive Sali Christeson co-founded Argent three years ago in an effort to tackle a personal pain point of hers: She couldn’t find stylish but functional business attire. She decided to design a line of suits full of useful features like functional pockets and wrinkle-free fabric. But besides being practical, Christeson wanted to create suits that projected power and confidence. “The real catalyst for starting Argent was reading research that showed how much women at work are judged based on appearance,” she says. “Your clothes impact people’s perception of you, which ultimately influences your career trajectory and your income over your lifetime.”
Argent’s approach has become popular with women across many industries, from Drybar founder Alli Webb and feminist activist Gloria Steinem to Hollywood stars like Awkwafina and Amy Poehler. But the brand’s designs have also caught on among politicians and their aides, including Huma Abedin, Clinton’s longtime aide, and Erica Kwiatkowski, the campaign manager who helped Katie Porter flip the Orange Country congressional district.
The brand’s popularity among politicians has a lot to with its design: These politicians need suits that are low-maintenance and highly functional, which happen to be hallmarks of Argent’s approach. But it also reveals a shift happening in the way candidates use fashion to wield a political message. Argent specializes in designing statement-making, fashion-forward suits that also project confidence and power, helping candidates express themselves rather than blend in. And the fact that Argent is a female-founded American brand—which sells affordable, accessible designs—makes it appealing to women whose fashion choices are, for better or worse, analyzed nearly as thoroughly as their political platforms.
The Hillary Effect
Hillary Clinton, one of the most visible women in American politics, was an early adopter of Argent’s suits.
When the brand launched in 2016, Christeson opened a pop-up shop at a women’s conference where Clinton was speaking. During the event, she had a chance to meet Clinton, take a photo with her, and tell her briefly about Argent. It clearly made an impression on Clinton, who over the next few months purchased suits in Argent’s most eye-catching prints and wore them to many high-profile events. She loved the brand’s shiny $358 blazer with the basketweave pattern so much, she owns it in two colors. After wearing the pink one to a Planned Parenthood event, she wore the green one to the Teen Vogue Summit and a photoshoot for The Economist. When she went to Georgetown to give an award named after her, she showed up in a $378 reversible Argent suit, which is solid blue on one side and checkered on the other side, making it effectively two suits in one. And in an interview on the Rachel Maddow Show, she wore the brand’s $325 elongated teal blazer.
Argent’s designs seem like a natural evolution for Clinton’s sartorial aesthetic. Throughout her decades in public office and as a presidential candidate, Clinton’s go-to outfit was the pantsuit. But Clinton pushed boundaries by wearing a wide range of colors including punchy orange, yellow, and red, as well as bright teal, gold, and purple. With Argent, she went a step further, picking suits in dramatic prints. Even in the aftermath of her defeat in 2016 election, these suits seemed designed to convey that she had no intention of fading into oblivion. “I think she’s been embracing bold fashion choices as a way to really exhibit her confidence,” Christeson says. “To show that she’s not going away and she still has a fight in her.”
Christeson also believes that other women running for office today are taking their cues from Clinton. “Female candidates are often accused of not looking presidential, but we only say that because we’ve never had a female president,” says Christeson. “Hillary Clinton is a transcendent female force in politics because she came closest to shattering the highest glass ceiling. Males running for office have a real roadmap about what they’re supposed to wear: They can look at the last 45 presidents.”
Color, versatility, and pockets—lots of pockets
From the start, Christeson has looked to customer feedback to inform Argent’s designs. And now that she has a large contingent of customers in politics, she’s designing suits for their needs, too. The new Argent collection, which drops this week, articulates some of those concerns. For instance, the dress code in politics is still very conservative, so Argent’s new suits aren’t body-hugging or revealing. “The sex factor is something we try to remove from the conversation entirely,” says Christeson. “We’re very aware of what is appropriate within the work environment.”
Argent brand advisor Nicole Heim says it’s still possible to be creative within this boundaries by offering a range of colors and silhouettes. Among the new pieces this season are a peach-colored suit with a tapered leg and a lavender suit has a shorter, cropped pant. A color-block suit featuring two shades of green has a looser, wider trouser leg. A herringbone blazer has a belt at the waist, while a black blazer has large button. “Even if women are wearing a suit every day, we want to give them options,” says Heim. “Often, suits tend to fall into two categories, overly feminine or boxy and masculine. We’re trying to play in the middle of these two extremes.”
The popularity of the brand’s colorful designs came as a surprise to Christeson. When she launched the company, her industry research showed that 80% of the suits sold are dark colors like blue and black, while only 20% are other colors. Yet 80% of the suits Argent has sold have been brightly colored. Christeson believes this has to do with the fact that many colorful suits on the market come in slim-fitting cuts that aren’t always appropriate in the workplace, whereas Argent often creates colorful suits with boxier cuts that don’t look overly playful. Plus, even the colorful pieces are designed to be worn multiple ways—whether by turning it inside-out, or dressing it down with a T-shirt. “For us, it’s all about versatility,” says Christeson. “It’s about designing suits that you can easily mix and match with your existing wardrobe. You can wear an electric pink jacket as part of a suit, or with denim and a T-shirt.”
But Heim says that it’s also important for its collections to be highly focused and restrained, to avoid inundating customers with options—part of Argent’s strategy of appealing to women who typically don’t have a lot of time to shop. That’s doubly true for women in politics who might not have stylists on hand to help them. “We were very deliberate about adding just a few more options to the suits we already have,” says Heim. “Each new piece has a very clear purpose.”
Christeson says that, in some ways, the needs of political women are similar to those of other professional women—they’re just turbocharged because their working lives are even more intense. They don’t have time for clothes that require ironing or dry-cleaning, nor do they have time to rifle through their handbag for a pen or phone. That’s why Heim and Christeson focus on using fabrics that drape nicely, but are wrinkle-resistant so they can be worn right out of the suitcase.
Likewise, the duo’s obsession with pockets is now a well-known part of the brand’s allure. Each of Argent’s blazers come with a bevy of specific, function-oriented versions: One pocket is made from microfiber cloth so you can clean your glasses with it and another inner mesh pocket holds your smartphone, allowing you to take a quick glance at it to see if you have any messages or missed calls. There’s also a clip for ID badges, a useful feature for women on Capitol Hill (or anywhere else) who need to show their credentials before entering restricted buildings.
Female politicians still tend to receive heavier scrutiny than their male counterparts when it comes to how they represent themselves in public. For decades, the standard for risk-free suiting has been dark, conservative, and simple. Thanks in part to politicians like Clinton, that’s beginning to change—and Christeson is eager to give clients an opportunity to express their tastes, personalities, and even political positions though their suits. “We’re seeing our customers in politics spending time thinking about how their outfit will reflect the message they’re trying to send,” she says. “They’re no longer willing to accept the status quo on Capitol Hill, where frumpy suits and blending in were the norm for so long. They’re looking for clothes that will allow them to hold their shoulders back, carry themselves confidently, and focus on the work at hand.”