And I'm just gonna go there: were they really that bad? The Washington Post's Robin Givhan says yes.
You've seen the jeans, and you've heard the backlash. Obama was caught wearing bad pants. And for a president, apparently, this is wholly unacceptable. As sartorial analyst extraordinaire Givhan would have it, the president's is a tricky balance: "Few people want him to look like he spends his afternoons thumbing through his subscriber editions of GQ. But most folks would like to think he has at least heard the phrase 'dress for success'." She adds that the jeans' frumpiness - their dated wash, suspicious lack of wrinkles, unfortunate brevity and relaxed sag - undermined people's confidence in a fundamental way. "(F)or a president who has prided himself on his forward-looking philosophy, on his embrace of the new, on his youthful vitality and on his ability to project an air of reassuring cool in the face of economic meltdown, those sad-sack, grandpa jeans were off message."
Almost as soon as he'd thrown out that fateful pitch, the criticism began - from tabloid coverage to a hard-hitting confrontation with Meredith Viera, in which Obama's bizarre rationale was that his only other pair was, apparently, hipster-skinny. Givhan joins the chorus of disapproval, deeming the jeans "not at all presidential" and declaring that, in the manner of presidents before him, he'll need to sort out a go-to uniform that conveys the same easy confidence that his suits manage so effortlessly.
I am sort of embarrassed to admit it, but I didn't mind the jeans. They were dad jeans. Dads aren't supposed to look sexy in jeans - indeed, it should be discouraged. I even found the jeans kind of...endearing. They were the sort of jeans a boy's mom buy's for him - or, in the case of my own father - a man's wife. And the thing is simply this: contrary to what the Media would have you believe, not everyone is a jeans guy. Jeans, at the best of times, are, like shorts, a tricky issue for men. There's no easy way for anyone of either sex to do jeans in this day and age: at best, unless you're going for all-out hipster fop, they look like you didn't try (a look that requires trying) - or they look crummy.
What Givhan is really talking about is the pernicious denim-jeans divide of the past decade. Obama wore jeans. People wanted him in "denim." Jeans are what a prior generation thought of as casualwear: one-style-fits-all workhorses good for chores and cowboys. "Denim" involves washes and implications and detailing - or lack of detailing - and seaming so subtle and insidious as to almost justify the astronomical price-tags. Denim, whether understated or overt, is about status. This is why many of us dislike denim. Givhan suggests that Obama was out of touch in this regard, and I guess she's right. But the popping of the denim bubble is one recession casualty I'd greet with equanimity - and in a time when we're strapped for cash, there are worse things than a tacit, unintended rebuke of one of the most obscene manifestations of pre-recession cultural excess.