In the first sentence of Vogue’s new profile on Jill Biden, which was published online Wednesday, writer Jonathan Van Meter describes the Biden family summer home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, as a “rambling, three-story Colonial” that has been “painted the color of just-washed denim.” A fresh pair of Levi’s — is there anything more all-American?
Like the perfect pair of jeans, the Biden family is basic and familiar. Their easygoing smiles and preppy charm make some voters feel comfortable and safe. It’s almost as easy to imagine them in a Ralph Lauren campaign as it is to picture them (back) in the White House — a notion acknowledged by Van Meter, and purposefully underscored by Annie Leibovitz’s Vogue spread, which is full of natural light and flattering knitwear.
In one image, which bears a striking resemblance to the Big Little Lies promotional poster, Jill Biden and her grandchildren embrace on the beach. They all have straight hair, smooth skin the color of sand, and they’re all wearing jeans and cable-knit sweaters, save for Jill, who wears a crisp blue button-down. In another, Jill wears a sweatshirt tied casually around her neck, the universal symbol of prep. Joe, meanwhile, poses in his office at home in Virginia wearing a polo tucked into khaki pants — a notably more casual look than the button-down Pete Buttegieg wore in Vogue’s June issue.
Taken together, these could be photos of the Kennedys summering in Hyannis Port, or really any upper-middle-class white family. They reinforce the sense that Grandpa Joe and Grandma Jill are successful, but approachable. They’re not pretentious like Mayor Pete, or untested like cowboy Beto on the cover of Vanity Fair (in a photo that was also shot by Annie Leibovitz). If you’re an alienated-feeling white-male Democrat, you might relate to them and the way they’ve worked to earn a nice beach house. And even if you don’t, they don’t present a particularly challenging vision, because they look a lot like the First Families of the past.
But is that good for America? “Biden is the Democrats’ answer to the hunger to ‘make America great again,’ dressed up in liberal clothes,” wrote Rebecca Traister in an essay arguing that Biden is not the best ticket out of Hell Town, USA. Vogue’s spread only reinforces this image. Sure, its focus is Jill, but the Bidens as a unit are presented as a 2019 version of an an all-too-familiar kind of white, preppy, somewhat-liberal-but-not-leftist patriarchal power.
Prep fashion has always been a status symbol, but it’s recently been scrutinized and reimagined by new, young designers, who seek to offer a more diverse, progressive vision of the traditional style. Vogue itself has documented this shift. By comparison, these images of the Biden family read as old-fashioned. Perhaps that was the point.