By Brooke Geery
Kamala Harris made history as the nation’s first female, Black and Asian-American vice president on Inauguration Day in a politically unifying purple coat by rising-star designer Christopher John Rogers.
So why was Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders making all the fashion headlines?
Among a sea of couture gowns, expensive sneakers and designer suits, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stood out in his sensible Burton Snowboards jacket and handmade recycled mittens. Within 24 hours, the internet had exploded with memes ranging from how to “steal his look” to his daily to-do list, to inserting him just about everywhere.
Sanders has appeared on album covers, in famous paintings and photographs, among the casts of classic TV shows, and on many chairlifts in Vermont and some around the world.
One developer went so far as to create a web-based generator that enabled anyone to place Bernie at any address with a click (bernie-sits.herokuapp.com ). The site has since been deactivated due to overwhelming usage costs after 9,849,938 Bernie memes were created.
The mittens he wore were made by Essex Junction-based teacher Jen Ellis, out of repurposed wool sweaters and fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.
She gave them to Sanders more than two years ago, and was surprised and delighted to see him wear them on the campaign trail last year and again last week.
She was teaching a virtual class during the inauguration, and was quickly inundated with messages about the mittens.
“What started out as a simple act of kindness more than two years ago has grown into something beyond my imagination!” Ellis posted on Twitter.
In an interview with Slate, Ellis said she’s enjoying— though a bit overwhelmed with — the fame, and has no plans to quit her day job and start a mitten business.
“The path that I’m already on brings me a tremendous amount of joy and I think that’s the greatest symbol of success, right? This little blip of fame is sweet, and it’ll pass, and then my regular life will just be what it already is, which is kind of nice,” Ellis said.
She had no more mittens available to sell, but after finishing report cards last week, decided to make three more pairs for auction — one for her 5-year-old daughter’s college fund, a second for the LGBTQ youth support agency Outright Vermont and a third for the Shelburne-based dog rescue Passion 4 Paws.
The men’s magazine GQ wrote: “Not only were they a righteous swerve for a history-making moment, but the story behind the mitts themselves couldn’t possibly be more Bernie-ish.”
As for Sanders, who is more accustomed to being plastered across the public consciousness, he was just glad Vermont’s pragmatic approach to life was in the spotlight.
“In Vermont, we know something about the cold,” he told CBS anchor Gayle King, “and we’re not so concerned about good fashion. We want to keep warm.”
Then on CNN he added that he’s glad it “makes people aware that we make good mittens in Vermont… we have some good coats as well.”
“The look feels Bernie to the core, no fuss and no flash, just down to the basics,” Vogue wrote. “And in Sanders’s case, nothing looks as good on him as his signature anti-fashion style.”
But perhaps the happiest part of the whole meme craze was the quick thinking of Bernie’s staff who turned it into a crew neck sweatshirt. The $45 item quickly sold out, and the proceeds were all donated to the Vermont Meals on Wheels. When and if more shirts are added, you can get your own at store.berniesanders.com.
Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger contributed to this report.
In our print edition, we incorrectly stated Bernie Sanders was donating the proceeds from sweat shirts to Vermont Food Bank. The actual recipient is Vermont Meals on Wheels.