During a recent campaign rally in Worcester, Mass., Donald Trump did his best to rile his audience with vulgarity and insults. While he has regularly attacked his opponents with an assortment of school yard taunts — “low energy,” “a disaster” — he slid down a particular slimy slope when he essentially called a protester fat.
“You know, it’s amazing. I mentioned food stamps and that guy who is seriously overweight went crazy. He went crazy. . . That’s an amazing sight.”
Trump has hurled a lot of meanness, but mocking someone’s weight cuts at the core of personal appearance, societal prejudices and a fraught sense of insecurity that by all rights should not exist but stubbornly does. It is a fashion insult — of the pettiest sort. Which means that it is a visceral, intimate insult. It is one that Trump knows the sting of all too well because he is a man exceedingly concerned with how he looks — specifically whether he looks fat, not simply whether he looks good. During an interview in 1999, when he was a political dabbler in the Reform Party, Trump peppered a Washington Post photographer with questions about the type of lens she was using to snap his portrait: Was it a wide angle? It better not be a wide angle! He was still distressed about a two-year-old photo that had run in another publication that made him look a bit chubby. “I looked like I weighed 500 pounds!” he lamented.
So Trump’s fat-shaming of a protester begs one to consider Trump’s own appearance. He’s known for a swaggering businessman’s style that offers little in the way of a statement on personal aesthetics or even rareified taste. His clothes are really just a perfunctory set of uniforms. His suits — he has leaned towards Brioni over the years — are cut from conservative but quality fabric yet lack an attention to fit. They are always a little too roomy, the sleeves a tad too long. So much so that they look cheap — or more diplomatically, they look a lot like the mass-market suits that bore his name and were once sold at Macy’s until the department store shuttered the line after his derogatory remarks about Mexicans.
Trump’s tie always seem to hang just a little too far below his belt, which makes a perfectly fine four-in-hand look not quite right. He makes ties look sloppy. He loves a red tie. Not a rich ruby red nor a burgundy, but a searing fire-engine hue, reminiscent of the tie that comes with a school uniform.
And there is, of course, the hair. Rooted in insecurity. Self-consciously combed over. A laugh line.
The Trump comb-over is surely the most famous comb-over of them all. A close runner-up was the one sported by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, until he had a moment of self-revelation in 2002 after a compliment from his then-girlfriend/now wife Judith Nathan. One morning, he failed to fuss over his hair, and his bald dome shone forth. She liked it. He kept it. And he was better for it.
When Giuliani ran for president in 2007, he did not do well with voters. But at least the photos from that campaign were flattering, even if the poll numbers were stinging.
So far, Trump’s presidential campaign is faring better than Giuliani’s. So perhaps Trump understands something fundamental about style and empathy, insecurity and the lowest common denominator.
For a man who is quick to tout his financial status, Trump’s style doesn’t telegraph money. It doesn’t look luxurious; it’s hardly elevated. For a man with a love of braggadocio, it’s surprising that he would not pay more attention to his attire, that his clothes would not exude confidence and certainty. After all, he’s surrounded by family — women, at least — with an eye for style and certainly for fit. His wife Melania spent time on the modeling circuit, and his daughter Ivanka, an executive with the Trump Organization, has her own line of mid-priced womenswear. Has nothing rubbed off?
Trump doesn’t look fastidiously tailored, which is probably one of the many reasons why the average voter can listen to him pound his chest and still relate. Trump may have his name plastered on assorted buildings, but he looks more like an ordinary, angry middle-management guy.
Besides, it takes a particular kind of confidence to dress well — not flamboyantly but with discreet elegance. It means being willing to draw a lingering glance not because of anything that is obvious or loud but because of the eloquence of subtlety. It means trusting in the power of a whisper.
But Trump serves as proof that a bad suit is a lot harder to ignore.