Contactless Commerce: How Mittens Came To Define Inauguration Fashion

Inauguration 2021, as PYMNTS has previously covered, was something of an unusual event when it came to commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic combined with advanced security measures meant that many local Washington, D.C. businesses who count on the influx of tourists every four years actually had to shut down at the mayor’s request.

“We are 110 percent supportive of what the mayor is doing to secure the city right now,” David Moran, director of operations for Clyde’s Restaurant Group, told the Washingtonian. “Of course, we’d rather be open and do business, but it’s just the right thing to do.”

But where some stood down for the inauguration, others stood up because commerce will always find a way. And while it was a different year in many regards, the inauguration swag pulled through. It emerged in some forms that were predictable (masks, mugs, bumper stickers) and also in forms that no sane person outside the state of Vermont could have predicted.

President Biden Needs Some Hat Merchandise 

Street vendors on the scene for inauguration day report it was a quiet year, according to The Washington Post meaning less revenue and a lot more relief. Obama’s first inauguration was a big day for vendor Mark Gothard: He cleared more than $50,000. This year, most vendors expected to make far less than the $20,000 they averaged four years ago when Trump was sworn in. That’s because this year, the streets near the Capitol and the White House had more troops than customers.

But there was business in town, and one vendor took to a tiny plastic megaphone, telling folks he’s the one with the best price on everything. “Half off! Everything is half off,” he called out. “Shirts. Gloves. Hand warmers.”

“I’ve been doing this about 40 years, and I’m a prudent businessman,” he told The Post. “The public decides what they want, and I listen to the public.”

However, there was a little bit of nostalgia for the departing president among the street vendors though not for political reasons. MAGA hats, they noted, were just a very popular sales item, and Biden doesn’t have a similar signature piece of merch.

“Yeah, Trump people bought way more from me than the Democrats did,” noted D.C. street vendor Gothard.

President Biden, it seems, needs some hat merchandise for the street vendors’ sake.

Or a snappy pair of mittens.

How Bernie Sanders Stole the Show

Big memorable moments and fashion inspirations aren’t alien to the inauguration. Michelle Obama’s sparkling yellow sheath dress and matching coat stole the show and generated all kinds of headlines during the 2009 inauguration. And 2021 had no shortage of people making big statements with clothes. Michelle Obama once again made headlines with a crimson outfit and statement belt. Kamala Harris earned the description of “regal” with her purple ensemble and a good deal more Americans are aware that Dior Air Jordans are a thing now, thanks to Harris’s nephew-in-law sporting them on the inaugural stage.

In fact, the entire inauguration was awash in bright colors. From poet Amanda Gorman’s canary yellow coat, to presidential granddaughter Natalie Biden declaring 2021 “the year of bright pink” in honor of her inauguration outfit, to Lady Gaga’s bright-red skirt and giant gold brooch, it was a “go big or go home” kind of year when it came to dressing for the day.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the outfit sensation of the year the one that launched a million memes and a sales explosion was an olive-green parka paired with a loudly patterned pair of mittens.

We are, of course, talking about Senator Bernie Sanders’ inauguration outfit which he assures the American people was completely by accident.

“Well, you know, in Vermont we dress warm we know something about the cold, and we’re not that worried about fashion,” Sanders reportedly said of the frenzy.

The bad news is that the mittens are kind of hard to buy. They were made for Sanders two years ago by Vermont schoolteacher Jennifer Ellis as a gift, and they are presently sold out and she almost certainly can’t make enough.

“There’s no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens, and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me,” Ellis noted.

Similarly, the Burton winter parka Bernie sported throughout the inauguration as well as for much of the last two years has long since been sold out.

But for those who are heartbroken that they will not be able to take part in the “grumpy chic” trend that Bernie Sanders somehow kicked off, there are other options out there. A quick trip to the Burton site reveals a host of similarly designed parkas, so you too can participate in the unique sexiness embodied by Sanders.

As for the mittens, while Bernie’s exact model may not be available, simply Google the terms “Smittens” + “winter wear.” As it turns out, the internet is full of crafty people making the sweater/mitten mash-up that kept Bernie so warm and stylish  through the inauguration.

Because as much as the world changed in 2020 and continues to be an unusual place in 2021, some things will never change. Inaugurations will happen, commerce will go on and style icons will emerge.

Often when they are least expected.