Dressed for their party, but nowhere to go

Delegates show what they would have worn to their convention
(Photos by Julia Robinson and Kim Raff for The Washington Post)

The national political conventions have always been about more than just the party’s presidential nominees and their acceptance speeches.

Every four years, thousands of the nation’s most dogged political junkies descend on one American city or another to perform the high duty of formally electing their party’s White House nominee. The party delegates, representing all 50 states and several U.S. territories, are as much a part of the show as any of the convention speakers — dancing, singing and waving placards for hours in what has long been the formal kickoff for the final stretch of the campaign.

And for this role, the party faithful have dressed the part — arriving for their moment in the spotlight in over-the-top patriotic ensembles that have only grown more elaborate over the years. Rhinestone donkey brooches for the Democrats; cowboy boots branded with the GOP elephant for Republicans. And in a rare show of bipartisan unity, American-flag-themed dresses, shirts, jackets and pants for everyone. The more unique the outfit, the more likely one might attract the spotlight of the C-SPAN pool camera, the roving eye of these increasingly made-for-TV affairs.

But like most everything else in the year 2020, the covid-19 pandemic has derailed this year’s political conventions. Democrats announced Joe Biden wouldn’t travel to Milwaukee to accept the party’s nomination and that in-person events had been canceled. And President Trump scrapped his planned acceptance speech in Jacksonville. While Republicans still plan to meet in Charlotte, attendance has been limited and much of the schedule has been canceled because of health risks.

That has left many party delegates with no choice but to watch the convention from home — their flashy ensembles saved for another day.

Amber Viola

Democrat, Pennsylvania

Democratic delegate Amber Viola is a veteran and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “The inspiration behind my outfit was woman’s suffrage,” she says. “I wanted the flags on my nails to be a reminder that you can be a woman and a veteran.” (Celeste Sloman for The Washington Post)

Paul Bruno

Republican, California

GOP delegate Paul Bruno is seen at Monterey Peninsula Engineering, his family’s company for which he is the chief financial officer. This will be his third time being a convention delegate. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Tim Chambless

Democrat, Utah

Democratic delegate Tim Chambless shows what he would have worn to the convention outside of his home in Salt Lake City. (Photos by Kim Raff for The Washington Post)

Minerva Diaz

Republican, Texas

Minerva Diaz, seen at the Hidalgo County GOP headquarters, is the first alternate delegate for the county GOP. (Photos by Julia Robinson for The Washington Post)

Alisha R. Bell

Democrat, Michigan

Democrat Alisha R. Bell is the Wayne County Commission chairwoman. She said she planned to wear blue because she’s a “true blue Democrat.” (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Edwin and Jenny Boyette

Republican, Hawaii

Republican delegates Edwin and Jenny Boyette are seen at Keaiwa Heiau State Park in Aiea. (Elyse Butler for The Washington Post)

Larry Romo

Democrat, Texas

Larry Romo, seen at home in San Antonio, is a Democratic delegate, an Air Force Reserve veteran and a former Selective Service System director. (Photos by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post)

Ken Reid

Republican, Virginia

Republican delegate Ken Reid said, “I wore my Trump outfit and did my Trump impersonation at the 2016 convention, and it was a hit.” (Photos by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Leathia West

Democrat, Maryland

Delegate Leathia West wears messages showing what she says are Democratic values: “kindness, inclusiveness and fairness.” (Photos by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Austin Smith

Republican, Arizona

Austin Smith, 25, is the youngest member of Arizona’s Republican delegation. He is also the national field director for Students for Trump. (Cassidy Araiza for the Washington Post)

Marcella Marino

Democrat, Maine

Marcella Marino, a Democratic delegate, wears what she would have worn to the convention. (Sarah Rice for the Washington Post)

Alvin Portee Jr.

Republican, South Carolina

Alvin Portee Jr., a GOP delegate, has a top hat adorned with pictures of Abraham Lincoln, his favorite president. (Logan Cyrus for The Washington Post)

Holly Lederle

Democrat, California

Carmel High School photography instructor and first-time Democratic delegate Holly Lederle is seen at her home. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sue Lynch

Republican, Wisconsin

Delegate Sue Lynch is the women’s engagement director of the Trump campaign in her state. (Joshua Lott for The Washington Post)
About this story

Photo editing by Natalia Jimenez and Karly Domb Sadof. Additional reporting by Lisa Bolton, Tyler Charwat, Omari Daniels, Ria Manglapus, Terence McArdle, Leilah Reese and Rushawn Walters.

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