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The Audacity of Poplin

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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President Obama’s admission last week that “we don’t have a strategy” to contend with the rise of the Islamic State left just about everyone in Washington disturbed and unsettled. Republicans were disturbed because the administration does, in fact, have a strategy for dealing with Islamist terror, and the strategy has been disastrous. Democrats were unsettled because the statement merely deepened the perception that Obama is, well, out of his depth. 

AP Photo

AP Photo / Charles Dharapak

The Scrapbook will leave further discussion of this subject to others.

In the meantime, however, we have an admission of our own to make: While we were paying attention to the president’s remarks, our attention was diverted by the president’s clothes: Specifically, the tan suit and striped tie he wore while standing behind the lectern.

It is worth noting that while the president’s detractors had little or nothing to say about his wardrobe, his supporters appeared to have much to say​—​all of it critical. “Not feelin’ the suit,” tweeted Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post, ordinarily a reliable Obama partisan. Matthew Yglesias of Vox, another dependable Obama shill, made a labored joke about “Suitghazi.” Joe Coscarelli of New York complained about the president’s “terrible khaki-ish suit.” Even Susan Page of USA Today, no enemy of the Obama White House, felt compelled to pile on. 

At which point The Scrapbook was prompted to intervene. Permit us, please, to say that not only did we find Obama’s suit (poplin, by the way, not “khaki-ish”) both appealing and appropriate​—​it was the end of August in hot, steamy Washington​—​we welcomed the fact that this particular president, for one brief shining moment, defied the convention in presidential uniforms. You can look at photographs of our chief executives during the past half-century, and you would have to look very hard to find one who isn’t encased in a dark-colored, primly buttoned, single-breasted suit, with white shirt and solid (usually red) four-in-hand tie.

There’s nothing wrong with always looking like an undertaker, of course; and sometimes it’s appropriate. But The Scrapbook likes to think back to the Washington of yesteryear​—​before air-conditioning, among other things​—​when presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson wore rumpled seersucker suits in the summertime; or, like Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman, were occasionally seen in public inside double-breasted jackets. Truman and FDR donned bow ties now and then, as did Coolidge and Warren Harding; and Dwight D. Eisenhower favored three-piece suits. So far as The Scrapbook knows, Gerald Ford was the last president to be seen wearing a vest. 

The list goes on. To be sure, most of these earlier presidents didn’t contend with daily television coverage​—​or, for that matter, with snarky bloggers and tweeters proverbially dressed in their pajamas. But The Scrapbook sees no reason why presidents cannot dress appropriately for the season, as Obama did, or undo some of the sartorial damage done by the Mad Men-era president, John F. Kennedy, who ended the tradition of hat-wearing as well.

So “we don’t have a strategy” aside, The Scrapbook salutes our poplin-clad president, and patiently awaits the return of the striped, buttoned-down shirt.

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