The manager at my local supermarket generally wears a pair of khakis and a white shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbow. It struck me some time ago that more of the presidential candidates and even the current president dress like a supermarket manager. It’s one more step, along with droppin’ the “g” when you’re talkin’ to average Americans, that politicians think we’re dunces. President Obama went to Harvard and doesn’t drop his g’s when talking to the British prime minister, yet he does with voters out in middle America (for New York fundraisers, not so much). Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both very wealthy men, have started doing it too.
I object to the pretense of it, the forced conviviality. But, of course, there is the fashion aspect. Last week, the Wall Street Journal cast a disparaging glance at the “new standard for studied sartorial ease”:
“Good lord, what have we come to?” says Daniel James Cole, professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “I read that Mitt Romney’s wife bought him Gap skinny jeans . . . We don’t think of jeans as being presidential.” The Romney campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment. . . .
Max Wastler, who writes the men’s fashion blog All Plaidout, wants politicians to stop wearing plaid to denote regular guy-ness. “It smacks of falsehood — like you’re trying to be the Brawny paper towel guy, when you’re really Mr. Peanut with your monocle and cane,” he said.
Yes, the report concedes, part of this is simply following the societal trend toward ever more casual wear in business and elsewhere. But the casualness, no surprise, requires a lot of fashion advice.
It’s understandable that pols and their handlers would be baffled — does dressing, well, like a president now amount to snobbery? I asked Mark Levinson, whose custom clothiers in Northern Virginia caters to Washington politicians, business leaders, media personalities and retired military leaders. (After 40 years wearing a uniform, what do you wear?) The new casualness rankles him, too. He tells me, “The American people are looking for someone to lead us through a tough time. Presidential candidates should be dressed with authority and command respect. With that said — it is imperative that candidates dress in a way that is powerful and relatable.” Well, that sure sounds better than mimicking the grocery store manager. He suggests sport coats for the day. Dark suits, he says, are still a must for evening appearances and TV debates. (Recently, the Journal report notes, we’ve seen some boldness in ties — “Rick Santorum’s Mary Kay Cadillac pink and [Jon] . . . Huntsman’s 24-karat-looking gold.”) When I ask him about the biggest fashion faux pas, Levinson pleads,“Please, no jeans at a campaign event. It’s always a mistake.”