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As the world pays tribute to Madeleine Albright’s many accomplishments after her death yesterday at age 84, a part of her legacy is undeniably her sartorial diplomacy. Albright, one of few women in the male-dominated sphere in the world of foreign policy, used jewelry to emphasize her political messages.
It all began in the ’90s, after Saddam Hussein’s poet-in-residence called her an “unparalleled serpent,” she wore a snake pin to a meeting with Iraqi officials. She soon realized she could use her pins to send a message. “I’d always loved costume jewelry,” she recalled to InStyle, but it had never occurred to me that a pin could also be used as a diplomatic symbol until that exact moment. So I started shopping for more.”
As Albright herself explained: “On good days, when I wanted to project prosperity and happiness, I’d put on suns, ladybugs, flowers, and hot-air balloons that signified high hopes. On bad days, I’d reach for spiders and carnivorous animals. If the progress was slower than I liked during a meeting in the Middle East, I’d wear a snail pin. And when I was dealing with crabby people, I put on a crab. Other ambassadors started to notice, and whenever they asked me what I was up to on any given day, I would tell them, ‘Read my pins.'”
In tribute to this formidable woman and her pins, T&C is taking a look back at her best brooch moments. Want to see more? Albright’s collection of more than 200 pins is available online.
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In 1994, when Albright was serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, she criticized Saddam Hussein. In turn, Hussein’s poet-in-residence responded by calling her “an unparalleled serpent.”
At her next meeting with Iraqi officials, Albright decided to make a statement by wearing a snake pin—even though, as stated in the Madeline Albright Collection, she did not like snakes.
This serpent brooch (picutred) was the pin that started it all.
Via the Madeline Albright Collection: “On February 24, 1996, Cuban fighter pilots shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft over international waters between Cuba and Florida. In their official transcripts, the pilots boasted about destroying the cojones of their victims.”
Albright denounced the Cuban pilots, saying, “This is not cojones, it is cowardice.” To reinforce her message, she wore her blue bird pin with its head pointing down—mourning the four Cuban Americans killed.
At her swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of State, Albright acquired an eagle pin—an eagle, of course, being the national bird of the United States.
“When we found out that the Russians had been bugging the State Department, we did what diplomats do, which is démarche Moscow,” Albright said. “But the next time I met with the Russian foreign minister, I wore a huge bug pin, and he knew exactly what I was referencing.”
Here’s another one of her bug pin moments—when she delivered a Russia policy briefing to an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in September 1999.
As Secretary of State, Albright was deeply involved in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Here, Albright listened in while PA president Arafat spoke to President Clinton on the phone, during their meeting at Arafat’s office in Gaza, in the West Bank, on September 3, 1993.
“I wore a bee when I was talking to Yasser Arafat, because bees sting and I needed to deliver a sharp message,” Albright said.
“To her, hot air balloons signify high hopes, not hot air,” the Madeline Albright Collection explains. Here, Albright testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the expansion of NATO and on the situation in Iraq, in February 1998.
Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil
“I decided that I was going to wear [this series of pins] when we went to Moscow in 2000 for a summit conference. When we were walking in, President [Vladimir] Putin said to President Clinton, ‘We always notice what pins Secretary Albright wears,'” Albright recalled.
“And then he turned to me and asked, ‘So why are you wearing the monkeys?’ At which point I said, ‘Because I think your policy in Chechnya is evil.’ He was furious, for good reason. And President Clinton looked at me and said, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re America’s chief diplomat, and you just screwed up the whole summit.'”
As the Madeline Albright Collection explains, “The spider has been renowned since ancient times for its patience, wile, and predatory attitude.”
Therefore, Albright wore her spider pins “on those rare days when I feel devious.”
Here, she held a briefing on the status of Israel peace talks in January 1998.
“One of my favorite pins was a gold dove given to me by Leah Rabin. I started wearing it whenever I was giving speeches on the Middle East,” Albright said.
Leah Rabin was the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by Jewish extremists. Here, Albright met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on July 16, 1999 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A zebra on her shoulder
Albright wore a vintage zebra on a diplomatic visit to South Africa to meet President Nelson Mandela on December 12, 1997.
Here, she listened to South African deputy President Thabo Mbeki answer questions at their joint press conference in Pretoria. Albright had talks with Mbeki before she met with Mandela.
In May 1997, Albright gave speech in support of implementing the Dayton Accords—also known as The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the treaty that ended civil war in Bosnia.
To reenforce her support for the Accords, she wore the state insignia of Bosnia: a fleur-de-lis.
Albright had numerous patriotic pins, which included American flags in all different shapes and sizes. Here, she wore a pin of the United States Capitol building to meet with members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.
Given Albright’s “well-known penchant for pins, she received many from foreign colleagues.” This golden lion head was a gift from British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.
She owned another lion pin, which she wore to meet with Syria’s President Hafez al-Assad in September 1999. Assad “took considerable pride in the fact that, in Arabic, his name meant lion,” so Albright wore the lion pin as a nod to him.
Albright often wore pins that explicitly referenced the countries she was visiting or discussing. Here, Albright spoke to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on increasing China’s access to U.S. markets, so she wore her Chinese dragon shard pin.
Breaking the glass ceiling
Albright was the first woman to serve as Secretary of State, and Hilary Clinton became one of her successors when she was appointed Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.
Albright wore her “breaking the glass ceiling pin” to speak before Hillary Clinton at a ceremony awarding Clinton the 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize.
As a refugee herself, Albright often wore a pin of the Statue of Liberty as a signal for her support for refugees.
“I’ve been a refugee twice, once from the Nazis and we were in England, and then we came to the United States when the communists took over in Czechoslovakia,” Albright said on CNN in August 2019.
Here, Albright attended a benefit hosted by the International Rescue Committee—a nonprofit that responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises to aid refugees—on November 6, 2013 in New York City.
Last, but certainly not least, is Albright’s favorite pin—from Katie, her youngest daughter. “It is a heart that my daughter made for me that I will always wear on Valentine’s Day. I wear it, and people ask me where I got it. I say, well, my daughter made it. They always ask, ‘How old is your daughter?’ Until my daughter finally said, ‘Mom, you have got to tell people that I made it when I was five years old.'” Albright told Smithsonian Magazine.
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