This was serious business, former FBI director James Comey testifying before Congress. But it was also a grand opportunity for the kind of televised stagecraft that the Washington establishment secretly adores
. Boy oh boy, did the folks on Capitol Hill look spit-shined and polished for the question-and-maybe-answer session with Comey, carried live on every major network.
The public servants and the people who report or pontificate on them were like students dressed up for the first day of school. Their ensembles might not have been new, but they had an extra-special gleam. For its pregame blah-blah-blah, CNN hauled director chairs out onto the Capitol lawn. Ignoring the grassy backdrop and clear morning light, the network’s crack makeup team seemed to have deployed the best super-luxurious false eyelashes and volumizing mascara, making the cable news giant’s stars — Gloria Borger, Dana Bash and Nia-Malika Henderson — look a bit like they should be sipping martinis by candlelight while delivering their political insights.
At one point during the anticipatory fanfare, anchor Anderson Cooper, along with analysts Carl Bernstein and Richard Ben-Veniste — assembled on screen in checkerboard formation — resembled multigenerational clones: all shiny white hair, dark suits and blue ties. Ben-Veniste’s suit jacket was especially inky, exuding not just sobriety but mournfulness. Who could blame him, really? He was a special prosecutor during Watergate. He sat on the 9/11 Commission. And now this: a slow dance toward — something.
As senators strolled into the hearing room, they looked so freshly groomed you could practically smell the shower gel. The men’s shirt collars were starched to such an extreme they could draw blood if a fella turned his head too quickly. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was dressed in taupe, her zip-front jacket with its precise French seams accessorized with a fancy strand of black and white pearls. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was wearing his gravitas-signaling reading glasses with an American-flag pin perched on his lapel, just above a white pocket square that poked out just a smidge too much.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), in his pinstriped navy suit, pale blue shirt and yellow-and-blue power tie, tended to keep his arms crossed in front of him as he questioned Comey, showing off a set of distractingly well-groomed nails. So even and shiny. With his penchant for skinny ties with spread-collar shirts that make his already slim neck look positively spindly, 40-year-old Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) regularly aims for a hipster look (no, not successfully). He is also a man who believes in facial hair: full beard or groomed stubble. But he was clean-shaven for the occasion of grilling Comey — the better for viewers to see his jaw clench in the nation’s service. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was suited up as well, but he was swathed in so many clashing shades of blue — tie, shirt, suit — that he resembled a “Portlandia” caricature.
Amid all of these serious shades of wool and gabardine, there was Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wearing a beige necklace of gumball-size beads and a blue-and-white seersucker jacket. It’s Seersucker Thursday! — that blighted Thursday in June when the members of the Senate throw a bone to the manufacturers of seersucker by dressing up as if they’re going to a church social in 1955. It isn’t that seersucker can’t be stylish: In the right hands it can be, but those hands are not in the Senate. This affront to fashion was the brainchild of former senator Trent Lott of Missisippi, and if there is one indirect benefit of the Comey hearing, may it be the death of seersucker on Capitol Hill.
But there was no one at the Comey hearing who was more pristinely attired than Comey himself — all 6-foot-8 of him. He strode into the hearing room and unbuttoned his jacket as he took a seat at the witness table, staring unflinchingly into a bank of cameras, the sound of their clicking shutters rising to a near thunderous roar. (For the record, the photographers, God bless each and every one of them, looked like hell.) Comey was the consummate G-man in his black suit and pristine white shirt with its barrel cuffs and point collar. His perfectly straight burgundy tie with its discreet geometric pattern and rigorous dimple was serious, polished — and recalled the color of a scabbed-over wound.
Once settled into his seat and deep into the questioning, he gestured — but never emphatically. His clothes remained unruffled. The light bounced off his tidy crew cut. There was no American-flag pin on his lapel. No club or career insignia pin. Nothing to declare his patriotism or professionalism other than the man himself. Those folks seated in the row of chairs directly behind him, the on-camera chorus, were almost uniformly in dark suits. A sober line of (mostly) men in black.
Everyone was there for the Comey show. And he was dressed with the understated confidence of a star.
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