Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The state of style at the State of the Union

The attire of the politicians at the president’s State of the Union address in Washington hardly draws praise from sartorialists.

After all, politicians are notorious for dressing, well, horrible.

Part of this is the natural desire of those seeking popular mandates to come across as an everyman — notwithstanding the fact that many members of Congress are far richer (and presumably can afford better style) than their constituents, who in many parts of the country are more likely to buy their clothing at J.C. Penney than at Brooks Brothers or J. Press.

President Barack Obama

The president was the best-dressed of all the major political actors seen on TV.

His two-button navy suit was trim and fit much better than the suits of both allies and foes. If Obama's past suits are an indication, he likely wore something from Hart Schaffner Marx.

The rest of what Obama wore was rather predictable.

A solid white shirt that featured a semi-spread collar. This was much more flattering than the button-down collar worn by the speaker of the House. For his necktie, the leader of the Free World went with a solid light blue in a satin finish that created shadows because it was too reflective.

All in all, Obama wore standard political garb. One notable exception was the dimple on his necktie. It was really quite superb.

What was missing — and what could have completed the president's look — were two things: a shirt with French cuffs and a simple pocket square.

Obama gets 8 out of 10. He could have also improved his ranking by opting for a three-piece suit, which would conveyed a little more seriousness to what is otherwise a formal affair of state.

Vice President Joe Biden

Last night, the vice president went with an ink blue suit — a color that may have been too informal for a setting where just about everyone was wearing navy, midnight blue or charcoal. (A few politicians were even seen in black, a color that should only be worn by undertakers and clergymen.)

As with Obama, Biden's shirt and necktie was more or less standard for anyone in business or politics. 

While Biden looked better, the ink blue color of the vice president's suit was a distraction. As a result, he comes in with 7 out of 10. As that old saying goes, never show up the boss.

The Speaker of the House

John Boehner, the gentleman from Ohio, is an interesting fellow.

A fan of whimsical printed silk neckties, he almost exclusively wears boxy two-button, single-vent suit jackets with solid white button-down collar shirts. Case in point: Tonight he wore a mint green necktie (think Vineyard Vines), white button-down and dark navy suit.

No pocket squares. No French cuffs. Nothing.

And there's nothing wrong with his plain vanilla style. It's just poorly executed.

His knots are too big for the narrow spread of his button-down collars, which while a staple of Washington are rather ill-fitted for wearing with anything but the smallest of necktie knots. A better option? The wider button-down collar designed for by Italian shirtmaker Neronote.

Boehner would also look better with some new neckties. Paired with a better button-down collar, a classic regimental striped necktie — talk about high prep! — would boost the speaker's ranking, which at present is a disappointing 5 out of 10.

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