• Erin Yeh

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Jacinda Ardern Representing the People Through Fashion


Graphic by Joy Chen

While the bipartisan nature of politics in the United States continues to escalate with the approaching election in November, New Zealand’s recent election has led to a historic victory for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 


Ardern’s popularity rose both domestically and internationally following her swift response to the coronavirus pandemic. With the early closure of borders and lockdown procedures, New Zealand’s low coronavirus cases and twenty-five deaths have ultimately contributed to her landmark reelection. 


Currently, the Labour Party is in deliberations with the Green Party to potentially establish a coalition government, although cooperation is not necessary. Prime Minister Ardern’s decision to convene with the Green Party speaks to her approach to politics as Ardern continues to be “a consensus builder.” As Ardern’s multilateralism continues to characterize her approach to politics, her emphasis on fully representing her constituents can also be seen through her fashion choices. 


In 2019, Ardern spoke of her support for New Zealand designers who manufacture their clothes locally, highlighting her conscious decision to “represent New Zealand in every respect.” Her commitment to representing New Zealand through fashion, even while traveling for political events, first captured international attention when she attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018 wearing a traditional Maori Korowai.


Photo by The Guardian

Standing in Buckingham Palace, Ardern donned a feathered cloak over her maternity dress made by New Zealand-based designer, Juliette Hogan. The feathered variation of the Korowai she wore is known as a Kahu huruhuru. In Maori culture, birds are viewed as carriers of messages between the people and the gods, and the feathers displayed on the cloak contribute to the spirit of the cloak itself. With a symbol of power draped across her shoulders, Ardern recited the Maori proverb, “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.” For the people of New Zealand, Ardern’s choice to honor Maori culture was a representation of her dedication to highlighting a multi-ethnic country with an indigenous Maori population through her speech and her attire. The image of Ardern’s prestige subverts typical displays of power through her non-Eurocentric fashion choice and detracts from patriarchal media outlets highlighting her pregnancy rather than her policies. Young, female, and in a position of power, Ardern is establishing herself as a leader on the international stage.



Photo by Time

Ardern continues to recognize the cultures and people that make up the nation’s identity, evident through her response to the Christchurch shooting in 2019. She spoke out in support of tolerance and inclusivity, refusing to speak the name of the terrorist who killed fifty people in two Christchurch mosques. Wearing a black hijab, Ardern stood in solidarity, comforting the families of victims and Muslim members of the Christchurch community. Her decision to wear the hijab gave Muslim women a feeling of security and led to the organization of a “Headscarf for Harmony” movement, prompting women in New Zealand to march in the streets with scarves covering their hair. After the terrorist attack against the Muslim community, Ardern’s decision to wear a black headscarf promoted a message of unity that was further solidified by her implementation of a ban on assault rifles.



Photo by The Daily Mail

Throughout her first term as Prime Minister, Ardern exclusively chose to wear clothing designed by New Zealand-based designers, and her election night outfit by New Zealand brand Maaike launched her new term with the same sentiment. Dressed in a loose-fitting burgundy dress and pants, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered her victory speech. The color of her ensemble was matched throughout Auckland Town Hall, representing the center-left Labour Party’s landslide victory. The style of her burgundy attire was also intended to keep the night’s focus on Ardern’s historic reelection. Maaike worked to design an outfit with a simple yet elegant silhouette, not intended to become a central topic of conversation. The designers behind the brand believe that creating a garment that makes Ardern feel powerful is the most important aspect. For a Prime Minister in control of 64 out of 120 House of Representative seats, Ardern’s power can be seen through her momentous victory and her burgundy dress.


In the next few weeks, Prime Minister Ardern will work to form her government and release her decision on whether or not the Labour Party will form a coalition with the Greens. While the deliberations are being kept quiet, New Zealanders are optimistic of Ardern’s multilateral approach and love for the people. 


As Ardern continues to break barriers in politics, she works to represent and advocate for her people in every way possible–whether it be through her clothing choices or her policies.