The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s coat sent a message even before she heckled Biden

At the State of the Union address, the congresswoman’s striking white outfit evoked religious imagery --- and the infamous Chinese spy balloon

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) yells as President Biden delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Close your eyes for a moment and think of a person wearing head-to-toe white in a room full of others clad in semiformal attire. As the specifics start to fill in, what do you picture? A bride, radiant, coming down the aisle? A new baby in frills, being christened or baptized? Or maybe a priest, in vestments, at the helm of Christmas or Easter Mass?

When one makes the decision to wear an all-white outfit to a gathering where many will have defaulted to a dignified dark or jewel tone, one makes a choice — not just to be the de facto center of attention, but to invoke something pure, even holy. There’s a reason guests aren’t supposed to wear white to a wedding; there’s also a reason Jesus is so often pictured in white. When Marjorie Taylor Greene wore a white coat with a fur collar while heckling the president during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, many on social media saw Cruella de Vil — but Greene seems to have been aiming for something a little more allegorical.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called President Biden a liar when he discussed GOP debt-reduction plans during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7. (Video: The Washington Post)

Greene’s outfit Tuesday — a white, knee-length dress paired with an ecru Overland alpaca wool coat with an alpaca fur trim on the hood and collar — was surprising for a handful of reasons. Not only is a white ensemble an unusual choice for the wintry, business-formal State of the Union (and a coat an unusual choice for an indoor event), but the silhouette itself, luxe, frothy and hyperfeminine, was somewhat outside the norm for Greene, who tends to opt for clean lines and often wears black or red.

Of course, Greene has set an expectation by this point that when she attends such an event, she’ll likely, at least momentarily, pull the focus to herself. Her outfit on Tuesday was a perfect choice for a disrupter: A gleaming white outfit, after all, handily meets the needs of someone who wants to stand out and be easily spotted by onlookers and cameras.

Greene wasn’t the only member of Congress making a fashion statement in the House chamber Tuesday night. Kyrsten Sinema, the senator from Arizona who recently switched her party affiliation from Democratic to Independent, wore a puff-sleeve canary-colored dress (which drew comparisons to Big Bird and a Teletubby). And it’s not the first time white has been worn to the State of the Union: Famously, Democratic women wore suffragist white in 2019, a century after women won the right to vote in U.S. elections, and again in 2020. But there’s a difference between a horde of people coordinating to dress in the same striking color and one person making a stark color choice alone. The former emphasizes group solidarity; the latter pulls the spotlight onto one individual.

A spokesman for Greene told The Washington Post via email that the congresswoman bought the coat while campaigning against former Rep. Liz Cheney (R) in Wyoming, and that she wore the white ensemble “to highlight something President Biden refused to address in his speech,” the white Chinese spy balloon. Greene also carried a balloon around Capitol Hill ahead of the event. (Biden alluded to the topic by saying, “As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”)

Head-to-toe white, of course, can also come with a strong whiff of the messianic. As profiles of Greene point out, among her base of loyal voters, she’s seen as a crusader for the Christian cause: An October New York Times story by Robert Draper notes that right-wing Christian leaders have prayed to God on live television alongside Greene, one declaring, “You are highly favored, you will not fail, in Jesus’ name, Amen,” and the other asking God that Greene someday be elected president of the United States.

In her public appearances, too, Greene is occasionally received with something approaching reverence. “When she did arrive, the tardiness was forgiven and the Cobb County Republican Party’s November breakfast was made new,” Elaina Plott Calabro wrote in The Atlantic in December. “She wasn’t greeted. She was beheld, like a religious apparition. Emotions verged on rapture.”

Evangelical Christians sometimes emphasize that Jesus himself is portrayed in the Bible as a teller of unpopular truths, a savior who was nonetheless persecuted for exposing and condemning false teachings. On Tuesday night, Greene’s furry white coat collar encircled her face in a halo of soft light when she shouted “Liar!” at the President. In Greene’s party, where evangelical Christianity and politics are ever converging, surely that particular bit of symbolism wasn’t lost.

This story has been updated.

More on the 2023 State of the Union address

The speech: President Biden used his 2023 State of the Union address to emphasize popular ideas from job creation to health care, pitching himself as a friend of ordinary Americans. Here are a few takeaways and a fact check of Biden’s speech.

A combative night: Midway through the State of the Union address, the room turned feisty as some Republican lawmakers began booing Biden. In one of the most disruptive moments of the night, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene yelled toward Biden: “Liar!” There was also a harsh exchange between Mitt Romney and Rep. George Santos. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy excused the hecklers, saying they were “passionate.”

The Republican response: In her rebuttal to the State of the Union address, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Biden of caring more about “woke fantasies” than Americans’ economic concerns and called him “unfit to serve."