Inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, the Republican National Convention seethes with equal parts vitriol and patriotism. Yet despite promises of a star-studded gala celebrating Donald Trump’s coronation as Republican presidential nominee, even the frothiest of the fairly freaky crowd gathering daily outside the convention’s security perimeter seem unenthused.
Perhaps they are disappointed by the glaring lack of heavy hitting establishment attendees. Or maybe they’re just underwhelmed by the plethora of hastily assembled D-list celebrities like Scott Baio, who meanders from reporter to reporter like a lost child looking for his mommy.
Locals are quick to note how they were promised there’d be more people, protesting or otherwise, to spend money. But an informal head count suggests that a majority of attendees would seem to be journalists, who have never been known as big spenders.
As for the look of this crowd, it is safe to assume that there’s not a GQ subscription in the whole bunch, starting with the people on the podium. Modern politicians of any stripe and those who flock to them aren’t the sharpest dressers. Sure, Obama can look snappy sometimes, and that Canadian fella is turning heads, but here at the RNC, the average attendee’s sense of style runs from “this is my dad’s suit” and “private detective” all the way to “deranged patriotic clown on acid.”
The crowd outside the convention center is … well, let’s just say it’s a free country and leave it at that. But once you pass through the maze of chain link fencing that marks the secure perimeter and start mingling with the rank and file delegates … things don’t change much. In fact, there’s still a lot of crazy running through this crowd, although inside the convention center it’s better washed and more frequently punctuated by folks in suits or proper casual attire, which usually signals either a PR person, a campaign manager, or a cable news personality.
It’s hard not to be struck by the sheer, uninspired averageness of it all. If you’re looking for style and pizzazz, this is the equivalent of a retirement home square dance. Occasional Texas oil magnates, trophy wives, or spotlight-chasing D-list celebrities aside, the delegates dress like the middle Americans they are. The most colorful word in this crowd’s clothing vocabulary is “nice.”
Members of the press, of course, don’t do much to raise the bar. For every protestor or delegate, there are multiple representatives of who-knows-what media outlets, from tiny blogs to multinational television networks, and all swarming like a cloud of gnats, live streaming every second. For the most part, they’re dressed according to their place in the journalistic pecking order: frumpy dudes with selfie sticks and GoPros sniffing out conspiracy theories to generic-looking, too-evenly-tanned hunks in department store suits—a ragtag pack chasing stories and marinating in the hot, humid air. (Full disclosure: the author of this piece wrote it wearing stained cargo shorts, a wrinkled short sleeve button down shirt, and a baseball cap that has spent as much time gathering dust on the ground as it has propped haphazardly on his head. He would be wearing flip flops, but was forbidden by his co-workers from doing so.)
Of course, it’s unfair to generalize about the attire of a crowd that has only its politics in common (other than to say the word “stylish” doesn’t crop up too often). But one apparel trend is unmistakable: older white men with an affinity for that infamous red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, plopped like a frumpy cherry atop their sagging polyester suits or ultra-high-waisted jeans. If nothing else, Trump’s ascension to the apex of his party has made aging, garrulous, sexist, ultra-conservative white men feel cool, even if only for a week.