A tan suit? How dare he!

September 2, 2014

U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York is outraged.

Irate over our decaying infrastructure? Declining job opportunities for young people? The depredations of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine?

Nah. His blood pressure has spiked because President Obama wore a tan suit at a White House briefing last Thursday.

“There’s no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday,” King huffed and puffed to an interviewer Friday, as most of us were eyeing the clock ready to start the long Labor Day weekend. “When you have the world watching ... For him to walk out – I’m not trying to be trivial here – in a light suit, light tan suit, saying that first he wants to talk about what most Americans care about ... the economy.”

Goodness! A tan suit! A light tan suit! Someone draw up the impeachment papers now!

That Obama sporting a tan suit sparked such a kerfuffle, and so much heated chat on social media, is indicative of 1) how, yes indeed, our political discourse has become painfully trivial, 2) how Obama’s opponents are willing to seize on anything and turn it into a cudgel and 3) how the fashion sense of American politicians – particularly male politicians – has become so monochromatically tedious and focus-group tested that even the slightest deviation sets tongues a-wagging.

We’ve traveled quite a distance from the days when our chief executives sported luxuriant beards, stovepipe hats, walrus mustaches and string ties. Heck, we’ve traveled quite a distance since the days when President Gerald Ford would be decked to the nines in mid-1970s finery. When he died in 2006, some viewers were no doubt shocked – maybe even horrified – to see archival footage on television of Ford in blue plaid pants and a matching jacket and vest. And he could occasionally be seen smoking a pipe. How did the republic endure?

Do a quick Google search and you’re sure to find photos of Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, wearing all manner of light-colored suits. But it’s primarily been in the years since Carter was involuntarily sent back to Plains, Ga., that top-tier politicians have adopted their predictable ensemble – a charcoal gray or blue suit with a white shirt and blue or red tie. And a flag pin.


The president is having a rough second term, as many pundits have noted. But if he helps liberate lawmakers from their couture constraints, he will have indeed accomplished something.



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