Confessions of a Washington tan suit wearer

Tan suits aren't that bad. What’s been lost in a lot of the Twitter uproar is that they used to be standard Washington summer wear for men. This writer had three of them and wore one virtually every day from May to October.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Obama leaves after speaking about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in the White House Press Briefing Room in Washington.

President Obama wore a tan suit on Thursday during his press conference on the situations in Syria and Ukraine. Social media erupted at his sartorial choice: You’d have thought the leader of what used to be called the free world was wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt and a ball cap.

“That suit is terrible,” tweeted Slate writer Jamelle Bouie, in one of the more restrained negative responses.

OK, here’s one more: “Obama vows to defeat whoever made him wear this suit,” tweeted The New York Times’s Josh Barro.

It’s tough to be president of the United States. Besides the difficulty of the job itself, every aspect of your life is subject to evaluation: your vacation spots, your kids’ schools, your recreation, and yes, your clothes.

This is one reason they appear to age at an accelerated pace in office.

Mr. Obama’s far from the first to get dinged for clothes deemed unpresidential. Ronald Reagan had a suit that appeared to be made of a purple check tablecloth. He loved it, according to conservative author Craig Shirley’s book “Reagan's Revolution.”

That suit was hideous. George Will devoted a portion of a column to it. First lady Nancy Reagan enlisted presidential aide Michael Deaver to try to persuade Mr. Reagan to leave it in the closet.

According to author Mr. Shirley, Mr. Deaver told Reagan that his staff felt this way: If he was going to be shot, at least he should have been wearing that suit, so it would have been ruined.

“It might have worked for a freshman Alderman, but the suit caused comments in Washington,” Shirley wrote.

Tan suits aren’t that bad. What’s been lost in a lot of the Twitter uproar is that they used to be standard Washington summer wear for men. K Street at lunch hour used to be a sea of khaki, with an occasional greenish-tan variation.

I had three of them and wore one virtually every day from May to October. They made you feel trim and cool and reflected the season. Also, they were cheap – $99 or less at Jos. A. Bank.

When I got married, my wife persuaded me to ditch them. She’d have burned them, if outdoor fires weren’t against D.C. regulations. She was a retail fashion executive, an unusual job in Washington. As far as she was concerned, people in the nation’s capital dressed no better than residents of Pyongyang, North Korea.

Women wore bolo ties with suits. Remember that?

This disregard had practical ramifications. At one point, she was in the back office of one of her stores when the manager came in and said a man out front wanted to use an office check to pay for a sweater.

“He says he works for the president,” the manager said.

“President of what?” said my wife.

Informed that the man meant “president of the United States,” my wife remained unimpressed. Company checks were unacceptable, even if the company was the nation itself.

Deaver was gracious about the refusal. He used cash.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to