The other day, a reader sent along a link for my review. It was to an article from Slate Magazine analyzing President Obama’s sartorial choice for his evening of inaugural balls.
As you may have noticed, the president chose to strike out in a new direction – somewhere in between black tie and white tie.
The Slate article was rather critical of the new Commander in Chief, noting that in the past Mr. Obama has demonstrated a masterful understanding of formal dress. In this case however, the review of his choice in tuxedos was unflattering. The president was being dressed down, as it were.
While I normally prefer that men stick to the classics when classic dress is called for, as with black or white tie affairs, in this case I liked what I saw.
When the president and first lady made their initial showing at the Neighborhood Ball, all eyes were on the First Lady, but I immediately noticed something odd: the president was wearing a white pique shirt and tie with a dinner jacket.
Normally, these items are reserved for formal white tie and tails. By pairing them with a dinner jacket, obviously a deliberate choice as it was all custom tailored, he was making a clear sartorial point. Additionally, he went with a turn-down collar instead of a wing collar, also traditionally associated with white tie.
After getting over the initial incongruity, I actually warmed to the look – partly because it was neither forced nor showy. I never got the feeling that I was watching some of-the-moment mid range celebrity attempting to be edgy or hip. Quite the opposite really, he was absolutely cool and elegant.
My only nitpick, and here I agree with Slate, would be the choice of a notched lapel. It’s never appropriate on a dinner jacket for the simple reason that it visually references a business suit. And in doing so, the formality of the outfit is reduced. Even though you know it’s a dinner jacket, the overall silhouette is less appealing.
A classic peaked lapel would have been a better choice in my opinion. Now, there is the chance that the president was trying to streamline and modernize his tuxedo, hence the hybrid shirt and tie. By choosing notched lapel, perhaps he was seeking to make it less formal, less “old fashioned.” If that was his intention than I suppose at some level he probably succeeded; it was different and it was fresh. But the basic DNA of a tuxedo is in itself timeless and a peaked lapel would have been the classiest finishing touch.
The Obama campaign theme always revolved around change and it seems that this holds true on all fronts. Did the president commit a sartorial faux pas by striking out on his own in the land of the classic tux? After all, in this town every politician, lobbyist and pundit owns at least two. Or is this a case of outside-the-beltway naiveté? It was neither.
I think the president gave us an elegant, unique and a clever twist on the traditional. It was a statement, yes; but not a hollow one. The president was not thumbing his nose at anyone and he was not vainly attempting to “update” black tie.
He was telling us that he has his own style; refined and modern yet clearly grounded in an appreciation of traditional menswear. As far as I’m concerned, the critics should lighten up and appreciate this fresh and thoughtful interpretation on a classic.