Obama's First Fashion Faux Pas
While we're all rejoicing at the fact that Barack Obama is our new president, we did have some reservations about the tuxedo he wore to the inauguration ball (above). Simply put, the combination of a notched-lapel dinner jacket (by Hart Schaffner Marx) and a big, shiny white bow tie was not quite the thing for a commander-in-chief. We asked our old friend Alan Flusser, the world's leading authority on men's style who's been interviewed several times about Obama's dress sense, for his thoughts on the matter. Flusser is a renowned designer and author of several seminal works on men's style including Dressing the Man: Mastering The Art of Permanent Fashion. You can check out his interview with Charlie Rose here.
In Dressing the Man, Flusser writes, "The whole idea of a formal suit [i.e. tuxedo] is to distinguish itself from the notch-lapel business suit, not replicate it." Flusser declares that a dinner jacket with notched lapels is nothing short of a "sartorial oxymoron, convoluting both the form's aesthetic logic and its promise of timeless elegance." A proper dinner jacket should have peaked lapels, or, for slightly less formal occasions, a shawl collar. As for the white bow tie, that should only ever be worn with tails - hence the classic "white tie and tails" - and should never be satin. (For the record, George W. Bush was also fond of the notched lapel look - though thankfully not the white bow tie - which showed to his disadvantage when he met with stylish French President Nicolas Sarkozy.)
"I've been doing interviews about how purposeful and reasonably stylish Obama dresses and how he might just begin to set a new fashion bar for the congressional set," Flusser tells Luxist, "and then he goes and shows up in that hodgepodge of formalwear contrivance. In fact, although we make clothes for people he knows, I have been reluctant to reach out to him because he obviously has more on his plate than any one human is entitled to. However, after last night's display of sartorial naivety, I am now determined to throw my hat into the ring of potential fashion advisors/designers for his evolving Presidential wardrobe. Frankly I care less as to whether we make his clothes than teaching him what dressing in a statesman-like manner actually constitutes. I think he's just the greatest and I want nothing more for him than to succeed at everything."
That said, Flusser notes, "Talk about dressing green - this is a [sartorial] advisor kind of meltdown. I don't care if he chooses to wear mediocre or inexpensive clothes but that is no excuse for sporting a notch lapel (always peaked or shawl lapel) dinner jacket with an oversized white bow tie, making him look gift wrapped and therefore costumed. Although Obama tends to look as if he's comfortable and wearing the clothes, last night's ensemble made him look as if the clothes were wearing him, like he was taking his best shot trying to wear something he had little feel for, which obviously (as you have so correctly observed) he does not. Okay, sermon over."
Note - for more on the ins and outs of men's formal attire, see last week's Classicist column, "Ralph Lauren, Whit Stillman and Black Tie," and this post from Michael Williams' brilliant style blog A Continuous Lean.