Although Michelle Obama's Jason Wu inaugural gown received mainly plaudits, Slate's Jesse Sheidlower has a brickbat for the president. He mixed white tie and black! And his tux jacket had a notched collar!
Writes Sheidlower, the president's attire "was, by the standards of men's formal dress, simply incorrect." Wearing a white tie but not "white tie" is a no-no, and what's more, wearing the more formal neck ornament at a black tie event is to commit the sin of dressing more formally than the engagement demands. Sheidlower to the rescue! White tie, in case you need reminding,
is not simply a tuxedo worn with a white tie. It consists of a tailcoat, not a tuxedo jacket, and it is worn with a wing-collar shirt with a front of cotton piqué. The trousers traditionally have double piping on the side seam. Black tie consists of a tuxedo jacket (which traditionally has peak, not notch, lapels with satin or grosgrain facing) worn with a black bow tie and a pleated straight-collar shirt. The trousers have a single wide piping on the side seam.
This is all true. By the recondite system of conventions that govern men's formal wear, our new president was all kinds of wrong. (Sheidlower might have also pointed out that Obama wore a wristwatch — traditionally a no-no with evening wear for both sexes, because it implies you might be marking time instead of enjoying the sumptuous event.) But I can't help but wonder why sniffing that Obama wore the wrong suit is apparently Sheidlower's most urgent impression of the inauguration?
The point is, Obama, for all his formal wear code-switching, looked good. The notched lapels on his impeccably-fitted suit didn't distract from the elegance of the event. The white tie on his straight-collar shirt didn't even immediately jump out at me as wrong. And I certainly wasn't counting the stripes on his pants as I watched video clips on my laptop. Obama's overall look was strong, handsome, and well turned out. A certain creativity with the dress code is not, in my mind, a sin.
But what's what menswear always comes down to, isn't it? Despite the best efforts of designers like Hedi Slimane (who, although no longer at the helm of Dior Homme, will always be at the helm of my suit-loving heart), Thom Browne, and Stefano Pilati to make men's fashion about more than two-button or three-button suits, to inject it with some of the vitality and purposefulness that women take for granted in our ready-to-wear, dressing up as a dude is still about following rules more than it is about looking good. Can you imagine if we were still trapped in some timewarp where everyone was talking about Michelle Obama's inauguration day outfits in terms of the "right" colors for day and evening, the proper length of gloves, the right kind of hat and the ideal heel height? It's refreshing that so little of the commentary on her clothes has given even a cursory nod to such restrictive, convention-based notions. When it comes to one's choice of dress, maybe it's easier to be a woman than a man.
Obama's Fashion Faux Pas [Slate]