Three Living Presidents, Zero Neckties

It is rare to see three living U.S. presidents convened together in one place, as President Joe Biden and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton did for a high-profile Democratic fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan last night. Rarer still, though, is the sight of three living presidents wearing suits without ties.

The fundraiser, which was organized in part by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, included performances by the likes of Lizzo, Queen Latifah, and Ben Platt, in addition to an onstage conversation with Biden, Obama, and Clinton moderated by Stephen Colbert. As it turned out, “An Evening with President Biden and Presidents Obama and Clinton” was a business-casual affair. Each of the three presidents in attendance wore single-breasted, two-button suits in sober tones: Biden opted for a pale blue shirt under his navy suit, while Clinton went white shirt/navy suit; Obama, white shirt/black suit. All unbuttoned at the collar, all sans necktie.

obama biden clinton on stage at radio city fundraiser

Obama, Biden, and Clinton—all sans necktie—took the stage at Radio City Music Hall for a campaign fundraiser last night.

Matteo Prandoni

Another sign of the informal times: Biden also wore black wingtip Oxfords with a grooved, sneaker-like rubber sole, similar (if not identical) to this pair from Cole Haan. (At a very brief first glance, they look like if you ripped the uppers off a pair of leather brogues and glued them onto a Yeezy 350.) The president has, boringly, gotten flack for his increasingly practical footwear choices as of late; some outlets derided the idea that an 81-year-old might choose to wear, say, puffy-soled Hoka running shoes for stability to avoid tripping or falling.

Government, like most industries, has experienced a sweeping de-formalization in the 21st century, particularly in the last decade. At the G7 summit in 2022, world leaders posed for their customary portrait in tieless suits—a vague gesture, perhaps, of industrious bonhomie. At pre-election debates, tie-phobic presidential hopefuls strive to convey “a litany of values with that one undone button.” And in the halls of a Congress in sartorial freefall, lawmakers wear suits and ties as if they’d pulled them, rumpled and ill-fitting, out of a dress-up box marked “Serious Costumes for Serious Business.”

At this rate, it’s no wonder nobody is wearing ties to the Oscars anymore.

Predictably, as ties have waned in ubiquity among politicians and Wall Streeters, they’ve regained popularity among the fashion set. At most, the slim-cut, tieless suit has lived long enough to become the global uniform of neoliberalism; at least, it has become banal enough to stoke some desire to throw on a big, silky, patterned necktie. But, as X’s preeminent menswear critic Derek Guy saw it, last night’s presidential tie pardon didn’t work because these were simply not the right kinds of suits to wear without ties: “A dark worsted suit without a tie is like the night sky without stars,” he tweeted. “You don’t look like George Clooney; you look like every office worker who hates their job.”

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