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Why Bernie Sanders in his mittens is the style icon we need in 2021

Stephen Doig
·4 min read
Bernie Sanders - AFP Getty
Bernie Sanders - AFP Getty

Joe Biden looked suitably patrician in Ralph Lauren, Lady Gaga was bombastic in Schiaparelli and Michelle Obama appeared to be recast as a high fashion version of Storm from X Men. But there’s been one runaway style winner from the inauguration of Biden, and it wasn’t the president or his band of well turned-out family, colleagues and celebrity cohorts.

That honour goes to Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic nominee who lost out to Joe Biden, in his workaday coat and, crucially, his big woolly mittens, sitting grumpily in his chair, as if waiting at the bus stop for the 173 to Asda.

The internet duly did its thing, with images of Sanders going viral, photoshopped into situations from the Last Supper to the iconic Men at Lunch image of 1930s construction workers sitting on a steel beam high above New York. Ryan Reynolds shared an Instagram picture of himself in the role of Deadpool, alongside Sanders.

Now, the mittens have their own Instagram account (@berniesandersmittenz) - the new Connor’s chain - and last night fashion search engine site Lyst saw a rise in searches of mittens by 311%. They’re also nascent in their woolly trendiness; on Sunday, Milanese fashion house Prada sent out a collection of brown, zig zag pattern wool romper suits, jumpers and long johns.


But Sanders’ toasty pair - temperatures in Washington DC were chilly and the ferocious winds were apparent throughout the inauguration - are not from the glossy catwalks of Miuccia Prada. They are (rather wonderfully and highly pleasingly) handmade by Jen Ellis, a second grade teacher from Vermont, where Sanders is senator.

She told a US newspaper that she’s been inundated with requests since last night but hold off putting in your order - she doesn’t have time to make them at the moment. She has been swamped on Twitter, but can’t remember her password to log in, she revealed. She gave them to Sanders as a gift years ago, and he’s kept them ever since.

The mittens in question are made with recycled plastic and old sweaters, an excellent example of the buying less and better ethos that’s an important part of the fashion debate at the moment. Sanders has been one of the vocal US politicians in the fight against climate change, so it’s fitting that he should opt for a locally-made, upcycled pair.

Bernie Sanders mittens  - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Bernie Sanders mittens - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Which, amidst the press releases fired off by luxury fashion houses taking credit for the various manicured inauguration looks, is wholly refreshing, and quite charming.

Sanders’ coat also got the social mediascape chattering, thanks to just how little effort he appears to have made in dressing up. While Biden and Obama wore smart, classic tailored coats, Sanders wore a muddy brown outdoors jacket and brown shoes - the absolute antithesis of polished, professional footwear. The coat also has a homegrown story attached; it’s by Vermont label Burton Snowboard, and was a Christmas gift from his son.

It’s also the coat he wore in another moment that became a viral sensation, when Sanders appealed for donors for his campaign. At a glance, he could be any Vermont dad begrudgingly stealing himself to grit the driveway, possibly grumbling about the havoc the damn weather is wreaking on his joints.

Let’s face it; Sanders sitting curmudgeonly in his big coat and fluffy mittens is the absolute on-the-money style icon of January 2021. He’s one of the rare politicians who’s happy to show his peevishness when annoyed, and it certainly comes through here.

He hasn’t the time or interest in dressing up, which we can all relate to after unrelenting lockdowns and being stuck indoors. He’d rather be at home with a cup of tea and the fire on than putting up with all this fanfare in the freezing cold, and he’s wearing something environmentally friendly from a nice local lady who knits in her spare time. The rest of us would do well to be a lot more Bernie in 2021.

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