The world to which the polity awakens on Wednesday will be much changed from the world seen before slumber on Election Tuesday. And as a new nation under the guidance of the 45th president greets the morning and dons the day’s clothes, similarly changed we shall find is the sartorial sway emanating from the West Wing. In fact, the odds are the West Wing will cease to exert much influence at all. The balance of power will have shifted eastward, to the White House Executive Residence and to the closets of the nation’s first First Husband: William Jefferson Clinton.
There is, I imagine in moments of despair, a chance that the closet lined with sober Hart Schaffner Marx and Hickey Freeman suits might instead be filled with Melania’s dresses and gowns. In this case, the menswear influence will remain in the West Wing but the United States will also face a host of problems so dramatic and existential in nature that any concern over men wearing boxy, ill-fitting suits will seem trifling.
Regardless of electoral outcome, we must prepare now to say farewell in January to the fashion acuity of Obama White House. Though it is true that fashion-wise Michelle Obama exerted a far stronger influence on fashion in general—a 2010 study found she generated $2.7 billion in revenue for the brands she favored—enough cannot be said about how her husband’s sharp style, not to mention all around cool, salved the national menswear psyche.
As a long-time Obama Style Watcher, I have seen how from the point collars of his inauguration tuxedo to his slim-fitting tailored suits, Obama kept it cool, cerebral, sharp, and deliberate. His style was patently an extension of his temperament. But for the last two years at least, his influence has become muted in direct proportion to the volume of the current election cycle. And among the malign characteristics of this unusually ugly election, one must also say this has been the absolute worst election cycle for menswear since John Quincy Adams narrowly defeated Andrew Jackson in the ill-fitting closely contested election of 1824.
The left was more reasonable. We were initially beset by Bernie Sanders, a man who treated personal style with as much contempt as he did the millionaires and billionaires against whom he railed. He was a shouty righteous ascetic, whose crumpled blue shirts and undone tie were cassock and miter in the Holy Order for Social Justice and Economic Equality. There might have someone else, too—Marshall O’Martin, Mallard O’Reilly, something like that—but whoever he was, his style registered even less than his name did. Of course, Bill Clinton was in there, creeping since the early days, but he was usually kept in the shadows and, besides, we’ll come to him in a moment.
On the right, oh man. Or rather, oh men: 16 of them at one point at various levels of stultifying boringness and ill fittedness. The best that could be said of the best of them—Jeb!—was that he was a boring dresser. But among those who stuck around, that is, those whose outfits entered into the morass of digestible disseminated images from which our public image is culled, it was a trainwreck from beginning to end.
When I’m unhappy enough to indulge in schadenfreude, I watch and rewatch this clip of Chris Christie—the governor of New Jersey, a man laid low by a hug, a Trump, and a bridge—at a Bruce Springsteen concert in April. To me, nothing embodies the tragedy of Chris Christie like seeing him groove to the music of his idol, for whom his adulation is as unrestrained as it is unrequited. With his pants hoisted well above his belly-button (cardinal sin) and tie extending far below (venial sin), Christie’s outfit is as untoward and unflattering as any a man could wear.
But Christie is clearly toast and it seems unkind to heap scorn upon a man so thoroughly destroyed, even though his destruction was self-inflicted. So let us turn now to Donald Trump, whose glowering gooselike visage has occupied our screens and psyches for the better part of the year. It has been widely noted that his fashion is the worst. His suits are too big, his ties are too long and far too loud. Whether or not his wealth is as stratospheric as he claims, he can certainly afford to visit a tailor. Actually, the man has his own line of suits, the Donald J. Trump collection, available on Amazon, so one might imagine he could find a well-fitting suit among them. That he doesn’t is yet another sign of his impertinent dereliction of duty when it comes to matters of leadership.
Furthermore, it has also been the case that Trump followers differ greatly from Trump not just in terms of socioeconomic posture but in sartorial decisions. Gleaned from a survey of press images: Trump fans are legion, look rural, and enjoy T shirts, camouflage, and stone-wash. Trump supporters and their orange overlord find common ground only in one item: Trump baseball caps that read Make America Great Again. These caps are made for Donald J. Trump with fabric imported from China fabric by a company called Cali-Fame Inc., in which employs almost all Latinos in their Los Angeles factory.
The future couldn’t seem more ill-fitting. But with luck on Wednesday we’ll awaken from this national nightmare. We’ll wake, for the first time, to a nation with a First Husband, or First-Husband Elect. It has been posited, not incorrectly, that if we were to pay as much attention to what Bill wears as we have to what Michelle did, these could be the boom years of menswear. But, of course, the scrutiny of appearances aligns not with office but with gender. The endless reckless and patronizing vivisection of Hillary Clinton will chase her as she enters the Oval Office. Bill, meanwhile, will blend into the wings, into the afterlife of dark blue suits and comfortable sweaters.
But I for one relish a leader who wears pant suits of brilliant hues. And when I awake on Wednesday morning, I might forego the charcoal and gray flannel of the past for the pizzazz of a turquoise or mauve or fire-engine red suit. For it’s a new era for a nation, and when it comes to menswear, I’m with her.