in her shoes

What a Whiteboard-Wielding Congresswoman Wears to Work

Representative Katie Porter grills CEOs in, what else, ballet flats.

Photo: Stephanie Noritz
Photo: Stephanie Noritz

Doing the Most is a special series about ambition — how we define it, harness it, and conquer it.

When you’re in Congress, every day is a marathon. As in, Representative Katie Porter — two-term California progressive, single mom of three, whiteboard fan — typically handles 15 to 20 different commitments in a single day. When we spoke, the former law professor went from a meeting to our interview to the accompanying photo shoot all before 9 a.m. Afterwards, she had to deal with more congressional business, more back-to-back Zoom meetings, and taking her youngest daughter, Betsy, 10, to get braces.

It’s a lot, and that’s without adding the constant flying back and forth between Washington, D.C., and the 45th District in Orange County, California. She says the key to looking good while in the public eye (and most importantly, being comfortable) is having a functional wardrobe she can mix and match, and sticking to ballet flats. Oh, and always prime your entire face before putting on makeup.

Photo: Stephanie Noritz

On how her style has changed since becoming a representative: I definitely made a major transition from the classroom, where half your body’s covered by the podium, to a job where I’m very often being photographed and in the public eye. I may have upwards of 15 or 20 different kinds of events in a single day. I try to wear simple, one-piece dresses, and I always wear flats. The dress that I’m wearing today is from M.M.LaFleur, and I wear a lot of their clothes in part because a lot of them are machine washable and have pockets, and I also use their resale site to buy and sell items. Because I’m on-camera a lot, solid colors work best, so you wind up wearing a lot of navy blue and black, if you’re not actively trying to spice it up. I own a pretty good collection of statement necklaces and statement earrings, and sometimes I will even switch those out during the day to give me a different look.

On the worst part about serving in Congress: The hardest part of the job is probably the travel. That’s a real challenge. It’s about a 19-hour round trip between Orange County and Washington. There are no direct flights, and that time that I spend in transit is time that I cannot spend being present in the community, connecting with colleagues in Washington, or being a mom to my three kids.

On the gendered pressures women in politics face: Literally, I get comments [on how I look] every single day. Whether they’re positive or negative, whether they’re in person or online, there’s definitely a sense that people want their elected officials to look both powerful and also relatable. It’s very difficult to try to walk that line. Things like a power dress or a sharp-looking jacket, which are appropriate when you’re taking down a CEO, can be off-putting when you’re in the community trying to engage with your constituents.

On her naturally curly hair: When I first ran for office, a campaign staffer insisted that I should go get straight hair, a Nancy Pelosi kind of bob. It was so hard to manage —I could never keep it straight enough. I just decided that if voters wanted to elect me, they were going to elect me with curly hair and all!

Photo: Stephanie Noritz/Stephanie Noritz

On her favorite flats: I love Tieks ballet flats because they have rubber soles. The halls of Congress are marble, both slippery and very hard on your legs. Wearing rubber-soled shoes is really key to being able to hustle between meetings, make it to votes on time, and still have the energy to get to the next thing. The founder of the company lives here in Southern California, and they come in a whole rainbow of colors. I own red patent, black patent, snakeskin, blue, and poppy, and they hold up really well. My first pair, a silver pair, I wore out on my first campaign trail.

On the item she wears every day: The congressional pin — our official form of identification — is traditionally designed for the lapel of a man’s business jacket. With the election of more women, including in my class in 2018, most of us have switched to wearing it on a chain around our neck. I wear mine on a chain that my grandmother owned.

On how she stays grounded: I try to get some time outdoors every day, whether I’m in California or Washington. For example, when I walk back and forth from my office building to the Capitol, I try to do that outside, no matter how cold it is. It’s the same thing here in California. When I have phone calls to make, I’ll often do those outside, and I find that opportunity to be out of the office to be really helpful.

On her famous whiteboard: Whiteboards are so handy for being able to keep track of what’s going on. I use them to make to-do lists for my family, to leave messages for my kids, like, “Please remember to put the pot roast in the oven.” I also use them in congressional hearings to try to help constituents follow along with what’s happening in Congress. As a teacher, I know that people learn in different ways, and having that visual aid, distilling whatever mumbo jumbo the witness might be spewing into a few words on a whiteboard, makes it easier to invite the public into the conversation.

On the beauty products she can’t live without: I use a lot of things in pumps because they’re quick and easy for me to dispense, and I often only have 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. I wear EltaMD sunscreen, but on days when I’m just in a hurry, I love the Glossier sun shield. Because I have such long days, I now have discovered the importance of putting primer on basically everything. So, I have a lip primer, eyelid primer, and a face primer. I like the MAC Prep and Prime. I used to wonder, How do people keep their makeup looking good all day long? The answer is prime everything.

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What a Whiteboard-Wielding Congresswoman Wears to Work