Sandra Broome-Edwards, 67, has worn pearls every day since early January.
“I’ve been sitting at home watching ‘Good Morning America’ with my pearls on,” she said. “It’s my way of acknowledging the momentous occasion that is coming.”
Ms. Broome-Edwards is one of over 430,000 women who are members of a Facebook group called “Wear Pearls on Jan 20 2021.” The idea is to honor Kamala Harris, the country’s first female Vice President-elect, who wore her signature pearls when she graduated Howard University, was sworn into Congress, grilled Brett Kavanaugh, debated Vice President Mike Pence, as she received her Covid-19 vaccine and likely, again when she is sworn on Wednesday.
“They represent sisterhood,” said Darnell-Jamal Lisby, a fashion historian. They are also the symbol of Ms. Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which she joined while at Howard, a historically Black college.
“I have been staving off my own brand of mini depression,” said Ms. Broome-Edwards, a retired information technology manager in Charlotte, N.C. “Finding this group has given me a new focus. Looking at all these photos has taken my mind off what is occurring in the world.” She spends two to three hours on the site every day. On Inauguration Day she will be wearing the double strand necklace that belonged to her grandmother. “My grandmother was a very avid poll worker,” she said. “She would be so proud of Kamala Harris.”
The group was started in early December by Hope Aloaye, 46, a retired navy chief who lives in Orange Park, Fla. “I woke up and thought, ‘We need to come together as women not just to celebrate Kamala Harris, but ourselves,’” she said.
Within three days, the group had 1,000 followers. Within a week, it reached 30,000. Demand has been so high that Ms. Aloaye tapped 20 volunteers to help her vet requests to be admitted to the group ensure there are no bad actors. While many of the participants are Black, there are other races represented in the group from over 99 countries.
“It’s women and girls of all variety coming together,” said Ms. Broome-Edwards. “I think it’s beautiful.”
Kamala Harris wearing pearls in 2019 during the presidential debates.Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times
Dorothy Allison, who lives in Philadelphia and turned 100-years-old in November,is not on Facebook, but her granddaughter posted a photo of her wearing her pearls as a young woman. “I hate that she did it, but it’s done now, so there is nothing I can do about it,” Ms. Allison said, laughing. “I heard all the other women are saying I am beautiful. I am happy about that.”
Ms. Allison doesn’t take a single day for granted. “If I am alive for Inauguration Day and have my health, I will be watching every bit of it,” she said. “For that day I will probably get a little dressed up and put some pearls on.” She wore them on her wedding day, 57 years ago, and puts them on when attending church, which she still tries to do.
The day will be especially moving for her. “I remember very well when women had no kind of positions, nothing to do but stay home and have babies,” she said. “I won’t be here to see, but I think it is going to go even further for women.”
With few opportunities to leave the house during the pandemic, some women are excited for any excuse to put on their pearls. “I might run out to the grocery store that morning just so people can see me wearing them with a big smile on my face,” said Jan Thompson Gorniak, 53, a forensic pathologist in Las Vegas.
For Gwen Kelly, 56, a project administrator in Cincinnati, wearing pearls has been a transformative experience since she was a little girl. “I used to try on my grandma and aunt’s pearls all the time, and finally they got me my own set when I was nine or 10,” she said. “I always felt like wearing pearls elevated me.”
Other women are buying their first set of pearls so they can be part of this community. Ms. Gorniak never received pearls growing up, nor was she interested in them. “I am not a big accessorizer,” she said. “I always looked at pearls as expensive and upscale.” But this Facebook group made her change her mind. On Jan. 2 she went to Zales and bought a long strand of pearls for her 53rd birthday. “Now I think they say, ‘I am dainty, but at the same time, I have strength,’” she said.
She hasn’t even tried them on yet, preferring to wait until Jan. 20 to wear them for the first time, along with an outfit inspired by Ms. Harris. “I am going to don a white T-shirt, black blazer, jeans, my Converse, and the pearls,” she said.
So many women wanted to buy pearls that Ms. Aloaye created a virtual pop-up store on another Facebook page where female-owned businesses could advertise their products.
After Kia VanWright-Ford, 44, posted an ad in the pop-up store for her custom apparel shop, Alwaze Apparel, thousands of new customers visited the store’s site. “The ladies were on the website all night,” she said, helping her sales that plummeted in the pandemic.
“I love the solidarity,” she said. “We are doing something together for once, and it’s why I keep engaging.”
Other women have used the inauguration as an opportunity to search for long lost pearls that have been passed down through their family. Jacqueline Richardson, 70, who is now retired but used to work for the state of Maryland, has been looking for the pair her mother gave her when she graduated high school.
“I am actively searching for them as we speak,” she said. “I hope I find them in time.”
Until then she is content with looking at other ladies in the Facebook group show off their pearls.
“I wake up at 5 a.m., and I check the group as soon as I wake up,” she said. “I love reading the stories about the women wearing the pearls given to them by their now deceased relatives. It’s like we can all be part of this big movement.”
When Makai Powell-Demeuth, 51, joined the group she was upset that she didn’t have pearls in which to take a photograph of herself. “I don’t really wear that kind of jewelry or fit in with the pearls thing, but I wanted to because I love how these women are supporting each other,” she said.
But then she remembered that she had received a bag of jewelry that belonged to her best friend, who died in July from complications from diabetes. After joining the group she went through it, and sure enough, there were two strands of pearls inside.
When Ms. Powell-Demeuth, who is unemployed and living in Santa Cruz, Calif., told the story of how she got her pearls on Facebook, she got so many likes she had to turn off notifications. Now she’s looking forward to wearing the pearls on Inauguration Day and feeling her friend by her side.
“I can’t believe my best friend is still providing for me,” she said. “She is totally still here for me.”