Just a tie…or the mood of a nation?

When most men stick a necktie on, they rarely put more thought into it than “does this remotely match?” and “does this knot hold the tie on?” Rarely does a man’s necktie decision include a focus group, photo tests or image consultants. Rarely do these things happen, but then rarely do most men have the job title of President of the United States.

Ronald Reagan, looking in charge
(The Reagan Library)

From a major speech to a routine public appearance to a press conference, any candidate or elected official, especially one who is being watched by the entire world, is going to be very careful and mindful of what they wear and what it may say about their politics.

Picking President Obama’s necktie for the 2011 State of the Union
(From The White House)

But when the President speaks, he is speaking for a nation; he must exude confidence while being aware of the current mood of a nation. His outfit, especially the most noticeable piece of it, his tie, must do convey the same message he is presenting. For major events, such as the State of the Union Address, a President’s necktie is put through photo and video tests where they lay the necktie around the neck of a mannequin with a shirt and coat on to see how the color and pattern look in a photo or on camera. Besides appearance, the color and the knot also send a message to anyone watching. Certain colors convey certain messages:

A red tie for the Commander-In-Chief
(The White House)

-Red: Red is known as a color of power, victory, wealth, and strength. Many Presidents wear red ties especially when making major speeches, visiting foreign countries or greeting military commanders.

-Blue: Blue is seen as a color of calmness and compassion. A blue tie is seen by many as giving the impression of empathy, such as when visiting a homeless shelter or an elementary school.

President Bush’s blue tie (which he was frequently seen in) seemed to match his message of Compassionate Conservatism
(The White House)

-Black or Grey: Both these colors send a sense or somberness or seriousness. When President Obama spoke about the financial crisis during his first few weeks in office, a grey tie was around his neck.

With all these different messages, you can see how the President would need a whole team to help him decide which tie goes best. Next week I’ll look at the actual knots of a tie and what they say about the candidate wearing it.

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Where to go to dress like a Commander-In-Chief

This week, while thinking about post ideas, my Dad called me to ask me about buying a new suit. We quickly got off topic and began to talk politics, the Presidential election and  where Presidential candidates get their clothes. I’ve already talked about what Presidents wear, what they should wear, and so it only makes sense to discuss where to buy these items! (Think navy suits, red ties, black wing-tips, and, if you’re visiting a warehouse, some jeans and a button-down to better “connect you with the working man”).

I’m going to start with an old staple of New England style that has classed up many a Commander-In-Chief. J. Press, founded in 1902 in New Haven, Connecticut, has been a staple to Ivy League wearers for over 100 years. J. Press has stores in Massachusetts, New York, and D.C., and is sure to have the right make (of suit) to make anyone look like a Presidential contender. J. Press is quintessential New England prep and it’s here to stay.

G.H.W. Bush looking always classy, sporting a "presidential" version of New England prep (The George H. W. Bush Library)

One story that shows J. Press’s impression on Presidential style and the loyalty of its wearers, is one I’ve heard many times: it involves President George H. W. Bush. While campaigning at his alma mater, Yale, in 1980, Bush received heckling comments from passersby, one of them calling him just “another Brooks Brothers Republican.” On hearing this, the President opened his jacket to reveal the J. Press label. BOOM ROASTED!

Hart , Schaffner, Marx is the suit of choice for President Obama. Founded in 1887 in the Chicago area, HSM is another staple of men’s clothing, known for their trim-fitting suits that exude power and style.

Obama accepts the 2008 Democratic Nomination in a custom HSM suit and tie (photographer unknown)

HSM is one of the few major brand of suits still made in the USA. Each suit is completely hand cut, giving it a certain feel and look that can not be replicated by any old “off the rack suit.” This allows for the wearer to be the best dressed man in the room (which also helps when you look as Presidential as Obama does in a suit and tie).

If you have the money and you want to follow in the foot steps of some of the best-dressed men in the White House, (not to mention Hollywood) then Oxxford Clothes, founded in Chicago in 1916, is the place for you. Known for their traditional, high-quality suits, Oxxford has long been an essential for some of the most powerful men in the world.

G.W. Bush, in Oxxford, at his 2001 Inauguration (The Bush Library)

Oxxford was the tailor of choice for both President Bushes and Presidents Ford and Johnson. Oxxford’s past client list includes Cary Grant, Joe DiMaggio, Walt Disney, and, reportedly, Al Capone. Oxxford is, again, all-American made (as is the trend) and sold in a few higher-end clothing stores (such as Louis Boston), focusing mainly on tailor-made suits. If you are ever in need of a good suit (and have a few thousand bucks lying around!) go to Oxxford.

I decided to end with my favorite of the “Presidential” clothing stores: Brooks Brothers. This American staple has been one of my favorite stores for many years. Brooks sells the full spectrum of men’s clothing, and their sports shirts are special favorites of Presidents and Presidential candidates alike

Bill Clinton, sporting Brooks Brothers the day after the '92 election (photo from Brooks Brothers)

(que Bill Clinton and Joe Biden; also Grant, Hoover, FDR, JFK, and Nixon; and also Stephen Colbert).

Vice President Biden (photo by Andy Cutraro)

Brooks Brothers is the oldest men’s clothing store/company in America, having founded their flagship store in 1818 on New York City’s Madison Avenue. Brooks Brothers is known for their top quality clothing, and, my personal favorite, their neckties. (Full disclosure, I own close to 50 Brooks Brothers ties, not counting non-Brooks ties, so I am a tad bit bias.) To show you the strong connection to Presidents Brooks Brothers holds, they did not sell an off-the-rack black suit for over 100 years, as they were the tailors of the black coat worn by Abraham Lincoln (specially made for him for his second Inauguration, and embroidered inside with “One Country. One Destiny”) when he was assassinated in 1865. To honor him, they refrained from off-the-rack black suits until the 90s. Brooks Brother’s has introduced to the American public such mainstay pieces as the button down shirt, the argyle sock and seersucker fabric. If you want the Presidential look, Brooks Brothers is the place to get it.

I hope you will now be inspired to go out, boost the economy and bring the “Presidential treatment” to your wardrobe. Go into a meeting, to a  job interview or out on a date dressed in some pieces from these places, and I guarantee the employer (or your hot date) will think you’re running for office, too!

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Improving Campaign Style

Following the theme of my previous post, I was looking for a good way to talk about the declining style of our Presidential candidates (especially this cycle). When I was doing some research, I remembered a column I had read in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago by Joe Queenan.  Mr. Queenan’s piece on campaign style hits the nail on the head. I’ve decided to share it with you– and add some pictures of my own– so enjoy!


How to Dress Like You Just Might Win


I was watching the Georgetown-Notre Dame basketball game Monday night and was struck by how dapper the coaches looked. And not just the coaches, but the assistant coaches. And the assistant-assistant coaches. Fancy shirts. Classy ties. Elegant suits. Colorful little handkerchiefs in their jacket pockets. Hoyas coach John Thompson III, a big man who knows how to wear a suit, looked particularly well turned out.

Then I switched over to Rick Santorum giving a speech somewhere, and he was sporting the usual undone dress shirt, with no tie, with the generic blue-jeans thing going on. Which is basically the same choreographed man-of-the-people look as Mitt Romney, only with more of a J.C. Penney’s twist. The Casual Friday Look. The Would-Be Maverick Look. The Hapless on the Hustings Look. The look that says: I went all the way to K Street and all I got was this lousy shirt.

Romney...without a tie
(Getty Images)

Personally, I think blue jeans on an older man look ridiculous—the French call it vieux jeune homme, which literally means “old young guy”—but that’s a separate issue. I’m also not all that crazy about the sweater vest, which makes you look like you’re running for student council at a college no one has ever heard of. But my real beef is: Would it kill these guys to wear a tie every once in a while? Dress shirts literally scream: Please, please complete me with a tie. Please, please festoon me.

OK, OK, if you’re running your mouth on a beach or in a factory or while attending the Daytona 500, the tieless look is tolerable. Same deal if you’re visiting a swamp or a filling station or the Bronx. But if you’re up there on a dais and there’s a podium right in front of you, and there’s some sense that what you’re saying might be important, could you please put on a dress tie to go with your dress shirt? Or a shirt that doesn’t require a tie? I think they still make these things.

Otherwise, you look like a dink. You’re running for the most important office in the entire world, and here you are dressing like somebody working the night shift at Wal-Mart.

Insiders may counter that Mr. Santorum et al. have ditched the more formal, cravat-bedecked look because people under the age of 25 do not trust men wearing ties. This is true, but people under age 25 don’t vote, so who cares?

(GQ Photos)

“You’re seeking the world’s most important office and dressing like you’re working the night shift at Wal-Mart”

By the way, the last person on the campaign trail with any real fashion sense was Michele Bachmann. But she had other issues.

I don’t want to make too much of the fact that basketball coaches dress better than Rick Santorum, but I think that the coaches’ choice in haberdashery underscores an important point. Americans love college basketball, because the kids play so hard, because of the cheerleaders, but also because the coaches convey a sense of authority.

They dress for the occasion. They understand that clothes do make the man, that if you look like a slob, you’ll get treated like a slob. Kids pay attention to men like John Thompson III, not just because of their coaching savvy and because they’re huge and intimidating and can cut them from the team, but because they dress like authority figures. I wear a suit and a tie; you wear shorts and sneakers. I talk; you listen. Clear?

None of this applies to Bobby Knight, of course.

In defense of the candidates, it’s true that they have so far resisted wearing those fake turtle necks with zip-up collars that are so popular this year. Nor have any of them resorted to the pathetic, last-ditch trick of donning leather outfits and straddling Harleys and biking out to meet the common man. And happily, no one has yet gone out on the hustings in a bow tie. Not even Newt. But it’s only March.

Critics will object that Barack Obama regularly appears in public wearing a dress shirt with no tie. This is true, and it is to be deplored. But Barack Obama already has the job the other guys are seeking. Once you get yourself elected president of the United States, you can wear fright wigs and Day-Glo track suits if you want. Moreover, Democrats are expected to dress down, because so many of their constituents are working class and have let their subscriptions to GQ lapse. Republicans, by contrast, are supposed to dress like Republicans. Back where I come from, Republicans wear ties.

A version of this article appeared March 3, 2012, on page C11 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How to Dress Like You Just Might Win.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Presidential Style = Popular Style

Presidential suaveness.
(The Reagan Library)

Always looking the part, Reagan
(photographer unknown)

You have to admit, the man has got style.
(Peggy Sirota, GQ)

If you look at the popular styles for men’s dress clothes over the years, you will almost certainly notice that the style of the popular President at the time becomes the staple for men’s clothing. One can look no further than JFK;  his style of “New England prep” remains a mainstay in American fashion, even today. Look at the late 70s, and the lax view of men’s style:Jimmy Carter’s comfy sweaters became a staple in his–and everyone else’s– everyday wardrobe.

Jimmy Carter, speaking to nation from the White House...in a cardigan
(screen shot from Presidential Address, source unknown)

The image of the President mirrors the image of the nation and what the people look to as the pinnacle of professional style. Reagan’s tailored, old-school style contributed to the “Wall Street” business look made famous by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglass) and became the look for the professional male. During the 90s, Bill Clinton, working the image of the middle class, “average” American, would frequently be seen in polos and button-downs without ties, pushing cultural shift from “business” to “business casual”, leading offices across the country to embrace the new “casual Friday” mentality.

Bill Clinton, being the "average guy"
(Getty Images)

(This only helped to hasten the decline in men’s clothing businesses, increasing the popularity of “off the rack” suits and less professional-looking office environments.)

Wearing the large lapels and boxy suits became a staple of the 90s
(The Clinton Library)

That laid back style continued up until the current administration, with President Obama. A very fashion-savvy individual, this Commander-In-Chief is bringing back the tailored suit and popularizing a professional office look, even on Fridays. Just take a look through the pages of a current issue of Esquire or Gentleman’s Quarterly (more popularly known as GQ) to see the style tips and “must haves” for the season. Invariably, you’ll notice more suits and ties and less jeans, khakis and tees.

Keeping it classy in the Oval Office.
(Pete Souza, The White House)

So, even though you may say “my vote doesn’t matter,” just remember, your vote may change the perception of men’s popular fashion for years to come.