As fall settles in, it’s evident that Washington’s new sense of style has begun to change even the established uniforms of male power and privilege. Here’s how to read the plumage.
The Hill Honcho
Michael Steel, 37, spokesman for House speaker John Boehner
Inspiration: Sean Connery in From Russia with Love.
On Capitol Hill, a suit telegraphs competence, conformity, and a higher purpose amid the chaos of lawmaking. Cost isn’t often spared, but a staffer’s attire shouldn’t shout its price tag. “The most important thing is to respect the institution and the people we serve,” says Steel.
1. Brooks Brothers suit, in gray or navy, with white or blue shirt.
2. Hermès tie. Rank and party are often expressed in choice of neckwear—color, material, brand, even the knot. Steel wears his in a simple four-in-hand.
3. “At work, I wear a nice watch my wife gave me for our wedding. On weekends, I wear a Timex from a Walmart in Janesville, Wisconsin, on a grosgrain band.”
4. Cuff links are a personal indulgence. These are engraved with an image of the Capitol, from Tiny Jewel Box on Connecticut Avenue.
5. Negotiating the miles of halls in the Capitol or hoofing it after the speaker from meeting to House floor to smoking break argues for a sensible oxford: “Every year or so, I get a good pair of dress shoes from Sky Valet Shoes on Wisconsin Avenue—black with gray suits, brown or cordovan with navy.”
Brandon Weight, 22, assistant events coordinator, Brightest Young Things, a web magazine and marketing company
Inspiration: “Any rapper with true street style is incredible.”
1. Creating an event in a retired embassy or throwing a dinner for a crowd is hell on clothes. “I tear things up and always have gaffer’s-tape residue on my clothes,” Weight says. “I wear H&M suits—it’s cheaper. This jacket I’ve had for a year, but I’ve already gone through two or three of the pants.”
“I’m young, so it helps to be present-able. When I came from California to Northern Virginia. I had super-long hair, highlights, I shopped at PacSun. It was really bad.”
2. How to know you’re a hipster? “I mean, I’m wearing an $8 camo shirt from Urban Outfitters.”
“I usually get off work and go to J. Crew. That whole strip [of M Street] is great—H&M, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters.”
Christopher “Gindy” Gindlesperger, 33, senior director of public affairs, American Beverage Association
Inspiration: “This is going to sound polarizing, but Kanye West is a huge influence for me.”
1. Gindy’s slick wool houndstooth communicates access and the discipline to stay on message. Like many of his suits, it’s custom, from Suitsupply: “My boy Will there helps me out. He’s amazing.”
2. Thomas Pink for shirts, or Charles Tyrwhitt, English cut. “I like a two-button barrel cuff.”
3. A pocket square is the discreet fun zone, with room for polka dots or Liberty prints or a hot color.
Lobbying has been liberated from its traditional mufti of yellow ties and pinstripes. Debonair is the new brash. “I look at fashion in Washington like people look at work: Once upon a time, work was a place you went. Now it’s something you do.”
“If you’re professional, you know what you’re talking about, and you look great. That’s the recipe.”
4. “The shoes are Ferragamo. No socks.”
Aderson B. Francois, 47, associate professor, Howard University School of Law
Inspiration: “My father would always find an excuse to wear a suit. As I got older, I got used to the idea of dressing a certain way, almost like putting on a uniform.”
“There is no dress code at Howard or any other law school—in fact, most professors tend to dress extraordinarily casual. Some don’t even bother wearing a blazer, much less a suit. Some even wear jeans. I just prefer not to do that.”
1. Gant Rugger blazer.
Perhaps nowhere is dressing to impress as important as in the classroom. “Teaching is like a performance,” Francois says. “If you don’t have a certain measure of confidence, students can detect it.”
2. Buddhist prayer-bead bracelet.
Academics avoid trends in favor of eternal truths. “I shop at Billy Reid, Gant, sometimes Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus. I buy very few things but wear them for a long time—so much that they’ve literally fallen apart. But I’d still be sad if I lost them.”
His look defines a precise line between youthful panache and crisp authority. “I tend to wear Dunhill or Gian-franco Ferre, but I like a slimmer cut and al-most always end up having it tailored.”
3. “The shoes? They’re Lidfort. I got them a few years back at Barneys, I think.”
This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.