Dear President-elect Trump,
In two months, you’ll likely place one of your totally normal-sized hands on a Bible and take the oath of office for the most powerful job on the planet. And, if you didn’t realize it before, it’s probably dawning on you right about now that just about everything you say and do, from the words coming out of your mouth to the clothes you (and Melania) put on each morning, shape the look and feel of the world around you.
President Obama was pilloried early in his tenure for rockin’ serious dad jeans. Jimmy Carter’s folksy cardigan became a national fascination. And John F. Kennedy, generally regarded as the most stylish POTUS in history, was pretty much blamed for hastening the death of the hat when he decided to doff his Inauguration Day topper during parts of the ceremony.
Back in the day (as in the early ’80s), you cut what some might consider a dashing figure, but more recently — and certainly since your campaign began in earnest — wardrobe entropy seems to have taken hold. Even a casual observer can see that those suits you like to wear seem a tad too big, that your necktie dangles far too low and that your hair seemingly has taken on a life of its own.
Sure, we know how busy you are right now transitioning and making Cabinet picks and that offering you style pointers at a time like this seems shallower than an El Chapo cross-border tunnel. But after you’ve been sworn in and turn your attention to building that wall you’ve talked about, you’re going to have even less time to tweak your wardrobe. To that end, we’ve decided to roll up our sleeves (the ones with the French cuffs like yours) and do our patriotic duty to get you looking knife sharp by Day 1.
Though we certainly don’t expect you to take our advice, we’re hoping you might consider looking to the 44 fellows before you, whose fashion fails and sartorial swagger have helped shape the unofficial Oval Office dress code you’ll be choosing to follow or disregard once you start your new job. Based on a survey of those men — as well as input from some professionals — we’ve put together the following four-point plan to make America look great again.
The two-piece navy blue suit is obviously the foundation of your workday uniform, and while we’re not exactly sure what label you’re wearing these days, it’s no secret that in the past you’ve gravitated to Brioni suits. We certainly have no beef with Brioni; if it was good enough for 007 (James Bond wore the Italian luxury label’s tailored suits through five films — 1995’s “GoldenEye” to 2006’s “Casino Royale”), then they’re good enough for 45. But if you’re truly going to be the “president for all Americans,” might we humbly suggest something a little more, well, American?
A short-term solution would be to dispatch a few assistants to the closest Brooks Brothers and pick up a couple of off-the-peg navy blue suits (with notch lapels and side vents) in your size. (While they’re at it, have them throw in a few neckties for your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, whose perennially disheveled look makes rumpled Bernie Sanders look like “Mad Men’s” Don Draper). We recommend Brooks Brothers because of its long track record with U.S. presidents. The company’s website notes that 39 of 44 sitting U.S. presidents have worn its wares, including your immediate predecessor, who wore a Brooks Brothers topcoat and scarf to his swearing-in ceremony in 2009.
Then it’s time to call in the big guns: Brooklyn-based Martin Greenfield Clothiers. Its namesake tailor is a nattily dressed 88-year-old Auschwitz survivor whose distinguished career has included making suits for U.S. presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and Obama. According to Jay Greenfield, Martin’s son, the company can lay claim to most of the suits Obama has worn since early 2011. Also, according to Jay, they’re probably in your Rolodex. We’re guessing you’re the kind of guy who still has a Rolodex, and Martin Greenfield Clothiers has made suits for you in the past. (They wouldn’t betray client confidence with details, though. “All I will say is that it waswell before the presidential campaign,” Jay Greenfield said.)
Greenfield declined to critique the current state of the Trump suit, offering only that it wouldn’t surprise him if it looked a little extra loose given the rigors of a campaign. “I don’t know if he would have had the time or energy to get [his suits] tuned up as he went along,” Greenfield said.
As far as offering wardrobe advice, Greenfield started with comfort level. “How people view someone is one thing,” he said. “But you also want ease and comfort. The worst thing would be for him to walk into a room and feel uncomfortable.”
However, Greenfield said there were a few baby steps he might suggest making to evolve your look. “I might shorten the jacket a quarter of an inch. That’s something that could make it look a little trimmer,” he said. “And bring in each shoulder, if it’s possible, by an eighth of an inch. Maybe trim the lapel a little more and raise the button [stance] slightly. Those are ways you could make subtle changes that move toward today without being trendy.”
Greenfield also would start you off with two suits: one navy blue, the other charcoal gray. “I’d recommend the super-fine Italian fabrics we used for Obama,” he said. “And a navy that’s not so midnight. [For Obama,] we used one that had a little more blue to it so when he stood next to somebody who was wearing a traditional navy suit, [his] would actually shine and look a little brighter.”
Although it’s tradition to keep the top button of a two-button suit fastened (unless one is seated), we’ve noticed that’s not exactly your style. One way to look sharp without buttoning up is to take a page from the William Howard Taft playbook and go for a three-piece look instead of a two-piece. “I dress a lot of guys for television and the movies, and if they’re supposed to look well-dressed and [they] have any kind of midsection and the pants are going to be a little lower, modern-style, the solution is to wear a vest,” Greenfield said. “It’s my go-to because a person can open their jacket and look much better-dressed. … It’s the perfect hide-it-all.”
Greenfield told us there’s one special detail that the company does only for U.S. presidents. “It’s a hand-stitching inside the [jacket] lining,” he explained. “We figured out how to do an alternating red stitch, white stitch and blue stitch. We do that for every one of Obama’s suits and tuxedos. That’s something we haven’t done yet for Donald Trump, but we’d be happy to when he’s president.”
Mind the beltway
If there’s one thing about your current style that keeps us up at night, it’s the prospect of spending the next four years watching the tip of your neckties do the “Donald dangle” a good four inches below your belt buckle. We’ve consulted the hard-bound menswear manuals that line our bookshelves and clicked through countless online style guides, and nowhere can we find that this move is OK. Maybe it’s the kind of quirk that comes from having your own neckwear collection (it certainly does pull focus — we’ll give you that), but we can find no one who endorses this look.
The rule is that the bottom of the necktie should fall no farther than the middle of the belt buckle. The only folks who don’t look sloppy wearing neckties that dip that far south also wear big floppy shoes and squirting lapel flowers to work. (Yes, clowns.) If you won’t consider a slightly shorter tie or a slightly chunkier knot, adding a vest to the mix would go a long way to at least keep that pendulous cravat under wraps.
Tame that tonsorial topiary
History will most likely judge the shape-shifting, color-changing, cotton candy comb-back that graces your head as the most quixotic presidential hairstyle of all time (sorry, Abraham Lincoln’s beard). Judging from the number of times you’ve discussed your hair in interviews and had people tug, touch and muss it to confirm that it’s real (Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” included), it’s as much a part of your personal brand as it is rooted in your scalp.
To untangle the problem of your mane, we sought the advice of Cristophe, hairstylist to the stars (full name Cristophe Schatteman), who has wielded his scissors in service to your presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, and President Bill Clinton (the latter most famously on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport in 1993, causing a famous kerfuffle known as “Hairgate.”)
Like Greenfield, he counsels a go-slow approach. “You don’t want to do a total makeover,” Cristophe said, “because basically that’s all the media is going to talk about, and it would probably take a little bit away from [a political candidate’s] credibility.” He added that in your particular case there might be a downside to doing anything at all. “On some occasions, [the candidate’s] image becomes bigger than [the candidate] themselves, and in politics, consistency is really key.”
If you did put your hair in Cristophe’s care (he does have a salon in Washington, D.C., after all) between now and your first day on the new job, what magic might you expect him to work?
“I would probably take the sides a little shorter,” he said. “[Going] a little shorter in the back wouldn’t be a bad idea either.” He also described ways to make a head of hair look fuller. “If you do the color on the top [of the head] one shade darker than on the side, you have the illusion of having much more hair on the top than the sides. ... I actually think this is what they might have already been doing. If you compare him now to the beginning of the campaign, it looks as if the sides are shorter, the back is a little shorter and the sides look a little lighter.”
Upgrade the lid
If there’s one campaign visual that ended up trumping your coif, it was the red, five-panel, trucker-style ball cap with the words “Make America Great Again” embroidered across the front.
After our research unearthed a presidential predilection for statement-making headgear that included top hats (Kennedy at his inauguration and Ulysses S. Grant), cowboy hats (worn by Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) and Lincoln in his iconic stovepipe, we found ourselves secretly hoping for Ben Goorin, president of San Francisco-based hatmaker Goorin Bros. (he’s the fourth generation to work in the family business), to recommend you upgrade to a pork pie, a trilby or a homburg (honestly, we might have settled for a fez) for your time in office. But we came away as disappointed as a post-election #pantsuitnation.
“There’s a reason he wears a baseball cap,” Goorin said. “His whole thing is about keeping American jobs, and the baseball [cap] is such an iconic, classic hat. I think that’s a very authentic look for him. With his whole idea of wanting to be about the people and the workers of America and not being elitist … you definitely wouldn’t want to put a fedora, a top hat, a bowler or a boater on him. They would look like a costume on him.”
Like everyone else we consulted, Goorin did have a couple of tiny but meaningful suggestions. “I think he just needs to update the style and make it more obvious that the style [he’s wearing] is made here in America … maybe picking a fabric that’s of better quality and a little bit more iconic to America like denim, heavy canvas or leather — something that doesn’t look like it could have been made in China or somewhere else.” (During the campaign, the Internet was abuzz with claims of foreign-made Trump merchandise, with hats among them.) “There’s also no reason it needs to be red,” Goorin said. “A black baseball cap would look great, and there’s no reason you couldn’t wear one with a suit if it was in the right fabric.”
Goorin noted that there was another option: a more traditional, softer, six-panel baseball-style cap with a crown that tapers back to form to the head rather than standing at attention. “The five-panel that he wears [now],” he explained, “is less preppy and more rooted in the blue-collar world of farmers and small businesses because the flat front panel worked well for messaging.”
Based on Goorin’s short-course in headgear history, maybe the most symbolic switch-up you could make in this department is to opt to be sworn in sporting a six-panel ball cap with the presidential seal on it.
Because when you get right down to it, the message of your campaign seems to have already gotten across loud and clear.
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.