Instead of the usual businesswear worn in the Alaska State Capitol, many female legislators are wearing kuspuks, the traditional and comfortable Inupiat-Yupik garment not often seen in boardrooms. It’s also being adopted by some men in the capitol.
On this particular Friday, Senate Secretary Liz Clark’s kuspuk is getting a lot of attention.
“Somebody told me the fabric is called Fairy Frost so it’s sort of a turquoise blue and it’s got the Fairy Frost trim with some red ric-rak over top. It also has the multi-colored cat heads lining the hood and the pocket. It’s more a dress length with a ruffle. It feels like a mumu to wear so it couldn’t be more comfortable.”
Clark owns five kuspuks. She and other legislative staff easily joined what’s become a tradition among legislators, who started wearing kuspuks to work on Friday about a decade ago.
Anchorage Senator Lesil McGuire credits the idea to former representative Mary Kapsner, an Alaska Native from Bethel.
“Back when she was in the House of Representatives serving, she had an aide named Katie Real and they started wearing kuspuks every Friday.”
When Real passed away from an illness, Kapsnor and other women in the House of Representatives continued wearing kuspuks to honor her legacy.
Kuspuk Friday soon spread to the Senate where now it’s part of the Friday uniform for the pages. The Senate Secretaries, the Sergeant-At-Arms, and her assistant also take part in the tradition. Three of these kuspuk-clad individuals on the Senate floor are men. Senate McGuire would like to see every more males embrace kuspuk Friday.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is get more masculine fabrics introduced. Our assistant Sergeant-At-Arms Andy Higgins has come out with a really bold black one with some gold piping so it would be nice to get the Senate President and the Majority Leader wearing a kuspuk as well.”
Eagle River Senator Anna Fairclough served with Mary Kapsner. Most Fridays, Fairclough can be seen wearing a kuspuk. While she enjoys the functional purposes of the garment, like the big pockets, Fairclough says Kuspuk Friday means something more.
“It’s the solidarity per se with the women around Alaska that we know where our roots are at. We know there are traditional values in all cultures across Alaska that need to be respected and it’s our way of embracing that.”
While a kuspuk is a traditional Alaska Native garment, Senator McGuire notes most of those wearing kuspuks on Friday in the Capitol Building are not Native.
“Non-Native Alaskans take pride in celebrating the Alaskan Native Heritage and I think that’s something that I have really enjoyed seeing grow in this building in my thirteen years here. It’s something that I would not say was immediately a part of the culture but it’s certainly become a part of it.”
Wrangell Representative Peggy Wilson owns four kuspuks.
“I love wearing it because it’s so much more comfortable than anything else I wear.”
Freshman Representative Harriot Drummond of Anchorage borrowed a kuspuk from a friend for Kuspuk Fridays. She says it fits her normal, outside-the-capitol style.
“I like wearing hoodies in my off hours and this is an appropriate type of hoodie to wear to work.”
In the usual sea of dark suits and stiff collars in a state capitol, Kuspuk Friday adds a touch of fun, color, and comfort to the work week. It’s also a symbol of Alaska’s diversity of cultures and people.