While President Trump refuses to mask up in front of cameras, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is using facial coverings as a tool for personal and political expression.
At the ceremonial swearing in of Representative-elect Kweisi Mfume on May 5, she wore a cotton candy-hued pantsuit and matching mask. One week later, she pushed the $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package through the House in a cherry-print mask paired with a magenta jacket. During last week's press conference celebrating the anniversary of House passage of the 19th amendment, her color blocked mask perfectly complimented the cerulean sweater draped over her shoulders.
Instagram stan accounts documenting Pelosi's outfits dubbed her a style “icon.” Fashion critics also praised her bold looks, including Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times, who wrote that “no other elected official has embraced the mask with as much relentless and considered eye-catching range.” Even Hillary Clinton bequeathed her title of Pantsuit Queen to Pelosi in an Instagram post: “Leader of the House majority, and of mask-to-pantsuit color coordination.”
Pelosi's many matching masks and scarves are a gentle reminder that clothing can still spark joy during dark times. She buys almost everything from Donna Lewis, a small boutique in Alexandria, Virginia, that's popular with women on the Hill. When I called the store, owner Chris Lewis told me they've sold 2,000 masks so far and have 2,000 more order requests. Their website has crashed five times.
“It's the Nancy-effect,” Lewis said. “She wears it, and we sell out. The demand is crazy.”
A transplanted New Yorker, Lewis describes his high-end business named after his wife as “a classic Italian type-of shop, very chic.” The two-story store carries mostly European brands, and is tucked into a picturesque courtyard with ivy-walls.
Their masks are non-medical and made of up-cycled fabric sourced from Venice and Naples. For each one purchased, Lewis donates one to Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is accepting PPE supplies.
They're hand-sewn by in-house tailors, and take half an hour each to complete. The masks are $22, and have cotton linings and elastic holders. They come in dozens of colors and patterns, including palm trees and flowers. The soon-to-debut summer line (some of which will be set aside for Pelosi) features masks in yellow and red and green Hawaiian prints.
Lewis said that Pelosi has been shopping at his store for 20 years. He serves her espresso while she pokes around—often with her girlfriends—and picks out pantsuits and accessories.
“It’s a great group of ladies that like to come in,” he said. “They sit around and catch up and buy whatever. Secret service [accompanies her] to keep things at bay if [other shoppers] want pictures, or whatever.”
Just last week she came by to pick up another half dozen masks. “I think our classic cuts and workmanship set us apart from other mask makers,” Lewis said. “Nancy's really drawn to that.”
Never before has a piece of fabric this tiny taken on such importance in politics. But now that masks are the message of the pandemic, Pelosi's sartorial selects have become a statement of purpose.
“I would hope that the president and the vice president would wear a mask. They don’t wear a mask. Why not? … They should set an example,” she said during a recent press conference. “They… have doctors around them all the time to administer to their various needs. But everybody else does not have that.”