News & Politics

Will Obama Kill Pleated Khakis?

By Richard Torregrossa

Is Barack Obama the next DC fashion icon? He favors slim-cut suits and tapered ties in keeping with the new trends in men’s fashion. It’s a more youthful look that contrasts with the navy-blue uniforms of President Bush and company.

“I describe his style as modern, crisp, a straight line,” says Pamela Keogh, author of Jackie Style.

He even wears the fashion pants in his political party—flat-front instead of the pleated trousers favored by the old boys on Capitol Hill. His main rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, cut a fashionable figure with the help of Donna Karan in the 1990s, but not anymore. She’s settled into pantsuits at the Capitol and on the campaign trail.

“He knows how to look elegant,” says menswear designer Alan Flusser. “The tie has a dimple in the knot; it’s pulled up pretty authoritatively into his collar.”

But Flusser doesn’t think Obama has reached the level of a style icon.

“He doesn’t dress that specially,” he says. “If he were wearing a pocket handkerchief, then I would say here is somebody who’s trying to develop a sartorial sophistication. He’s got more style than the average Beltway politician, but he doesn’t want to go too far.”

And that might be a kind of sophistication in itself. President Kennedy was a Savile Row regular until he realized that he might appear too posh.

Obama has made himself vulnerable in a similar way. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd criticized him for snuggling up to Oprah, spending too much time in the gym, and posing for fashion spreads in Men’s Vogue. “Does Barack Obama,” she wrote, “want to be a celebrity or a man of history—or is there no longer any difference?”

Perhaps he’s just trying to get elected.

“The majority of my customers are politicians and lobbyists who put a lot of thought into what they wear,” says Craig Fox of Wm. Fox & Co., a menswear store two blocks from the White House, which has no relationship with Obama. “Everybody is looking for an edge. Style is a powerful tool.”