Not Dressing the Part

(Thompson On The "Law & Order" Set In 2003; By Matt Moyer -- Associated Press)
By Robin Givhan
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If one simply heard Fred Thompson speak and did not have the benefit of seeing him, it would be forgivable to assume that he, with his slow-as-molasses, just-us-regular-folks drawl, might be wearing overalls and a pair of muddied work boots after moseying in from the field.

He does not speak with the self-important urgency of a man who has meetings to run, palms to grease and votes to get. He is a man whose tone registers as perpetually bored and exhausted, his voice trailing off at the end of a sentence as though he is too tired and uninterested to make it to the final punctuation. He sounds like a man whose favorite pastime is sitting on his porch.

This wouldn't be startling if the expectations for Thompson to cut a dazzling figure as a presidential candidate had not been especially high. He has spent so much time in front of the camera as an actor that pundits and pontificators assumed he would bring the panache of a star to the campaign trail. But Thompson has revealed that he is not immune from the same travails that stymie even award-winning actors. When they are forced to be themselves, to dress without the aid of costumers, to converse without a script or the safety net of multiple takes, they are not quite so smooth and charismatic. An ugly truth emerges: They are boring.

Thompson is the tall guy in the mediocre suit -- the one with the collar that gaps, the one with the flag pin on the lapel. The candidate, who stands well over 6 feet tall, tends to lean forward slightly as though he is always straining to hear what those irritating little people down below are telling him. His face carries a hangdog expression that borders on looking like a chew toy.

Thompson has a fondness for pale-blue shirts. He doesn't mind a polo shirt as long as it's emphatically unstylish. Perhaps he is a man who harbors great passion for his wardrobe, but the only message that comes through in his attire is that it is wholly perfunctory. He wears clothes so as not to be naked.

Thompson has not committed any grave crimes against aesthetics. But some observant soul -- Cher? Liberace? -- once noted that it is better to have bad taste than no taste at all. This was not a plea for more Sansabelt trousers and short-sleeve dress shirts -- that great fashion oxymoron. It was a recognition that it's better to display some evidence of individuality rather than come across as a cipher, a drone.

Thompson looks like the quintessential Washington caricature: traditional, unimaginative, stiff. It doesn't help that the characters he has so often played on screen could be described the same way. His fantasy life and his real life merge. He is boring no matter which way one looks.

No one expects or requires Thompson to have the kind of style that could be described as debonair. But a candidate aiming to be the most powerful, authoritative and compelling man in virtually any room ought to dress for the job to which he aspires.

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