Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Sartorial Washington, D.C.

I’m probably on the record somewhere in this blog stating that living inside the Beltway—residing as I do—literally seven miles from the Hill—six miles from the White House—and not being in politics is like living in Hollywood and not being in the movie business. Washington, D.C.  is a three-button sack coat, goofball town, awash with sycophants.  

This wasn’t always my opinion. There was a time when I loved the academics of politics. I loved United States constitutional history and I loved reading the 17th and 18th century political and social theorists. And I worked for a U.S. Senator the summer between my junior and one of my senior years of undergrad. Then the taint wafted in. Slowly. And rather like slow growing hardwood trees, the taint; when it did unfurl, was sturdy to the point of calcification and in my mind—it was here to stay. I love the academics of the political process. I loathe politicians. My rather decided view of all this culminated when during one of my several assignments within the pharma industry, I lobbied (I love the new, perhaps more palatable characterization of special interest tactics. Instead of lobbying, it’s advocacy now) agencies, legislators and policy shapers.  
Even the most well-meaning newly elected legislator will, within their first term, become to some degree, convertedturned. The big money, the court of jesters that include staffer toadies who would literally, I kid you not, wipe a legislator’s butt if asked, are laughable on one hand and downright pitiful on the other. I moderated my Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. bias slightly after reading his diaries but only a little bit. Loyalty is good. Unwavering allegiance without question scares me. I honestly believe that Schlesinger would have done anything to or for JFK and RFK...upon demand. Ok, so perhaps he wasn't a bow tied sycophant. But he was a J. Pressed lap-dog. 
I’m ok with ego and eccentricity but I’m less disgusted with gaudy shows of power and money when one comes about it in ways other than at the people's expense. And what we have on the Hill today are not servants of this country’s citizenry and our best interests. Oh, and state legislators are just as bad or worse. My home state’s legislative branch was for years, flat-out; for sale.
So it becomes rather obvious why sartorial panache doesn’t have to be part of the success formula in political Washington, D.C. The currency here is power—not style. There are a few exceptions to the rule but unfortunately, most of the best examples are historical ones. Come to think of it, sartorial Washington has fallen from its rather low-set three-button goofball sack coat perch and has landed on less defined ground. Even the most sociopathic political opportunist woulda looked ok if they’d just had one of their butt-wiper staffers drive them over to J. Press for a couple of suits and matching accessories. Remember Jim Traficant?
And with the exception of those Ivy League keystone cop knuckle heads at the CIA who led JFK to green light the Bay of Pigs—and with their hiccup or two regarding Vietnam, we’d be better off morally and sartorially if United States foreign policy was still led by those patinated statesmen who wouldn’t dream of stepping out of the house unless swathed and shod in Chipp, J. Press, The Brethren Brooks or some visiting Savile Row tailor or cobbler. Acheson and Harriman come to mind.
The current round-up of politicians offers more bad sartorial examples than good ones so let’s look back for a moment. Texan John Tower who was anything but towering, physically…was a natty dresser. Never did I see him without well placed linen in his breast pocket. And his ties were impeccably dimpled. I wonder if some of his sartorial knack came from hanging around Savile Row while attending the London School of Economics. Tower was a great sartorial specimen even though a little too Adolphe Menjou-esque in his studied perfection.
But I’ll take too well-studied and over-groomed any day, compared to the myth busting carriage of Barney Frank. So much for the prejudicial stereotype that says gay men are fastidious, neat and aesthetically advanced.
And I’ll say that the Kennedy brothers were an exception to all of my biased generalizations regarding sartorial Washington. Why? First, it’s their genetic predisposition for big, white incisors and really thick hair. Next, it’s their wealthy father’s investment from an early age, in their wardrobes rich in London bespoke and New England Trad-Ivy content. They learned it early on and never wavered too far from it. 
If Jack and Bobby had lived long enough to see Nehru Jackets, Members Only windbreakers and Nik-Nik shirts, something tells me that they’d have taken a pass.
So what about those other Texas boys, Connolly and Johnson? I love this photo. Lyndon and John at a ceremony honoring their mentor and surrogate father, Sam Rayburn. Friends and power seekers…at each other’s expense—one in the same. Texans without hats? It seems unthinkable. 
Connolly in a three-two peak lapelled single breasted rig. Rail thin. University of Texas.
Might this be Exhibit One in the “Does a picture really say a thousand words" Trial? Texans can do hats. Most times, it’s better that non-Texan politicians eschew the urge to top. But look at the HappyWarrior in the middle. He’d a looked even less comfortable with an obligatory “when in Rome” temporarily donned Stetson but geez…could there be a greater divide…a more dichotomous gaggle than HHH and these two Texans?
LBJ’s sartorial performances weren’t ghastly but it was obvious that he didn’t give too much of a damn about clothes. He was the hang-dog, jowly, big-eared Uncle Cornpone to JFK’s Trad-Ivy everythingness. But LBJ was a master strategist and a formidable tactician. History now trends toward assigning LBJ the rightful assignation of the most legislatively capable operative to ever occupy the Senate. He was the United States Senate for almost twelve years. Don’t believe me? Read Caro’s latest LBJ volume, Passage of Power. The first forty-seven days of LBJ’s presidency saw him reach back into the Senate and pull JFK’s stalled legislation out of the proverbial shitter. He knew how to get it done. The Harvards, as he called them, who ran the Executive branch before he took over, did not. Even though he urged...begged actually...most of the Harvards to stay on for at least one year before resigning their posts, it took his tactical, pragmatic, Cornponessence to legislatively actualize what JFK's Executive had initiated.
But there were a couple of things in Caro’s latest volume that challenged me. So consistent with my pseudo-academic, mighty-erudity-ness, I wrote Robert Caro to seek some clarification. Stay tuned for the response.
Ok, I’ve wandered aimlessly here and haven’t really made much of a sartorial point. I reckon the gist of this is that I live inside the Beltway for reasons that damn sure exclude ones political, sartorial and duende-acious. I am mad about clothes. I am mad at politicians. Now let me go see about what’s left of my hair.

Onward. Having already voted, I am…ADG II...your humble servant in all things sartorially random.
Oh…one more thing. The last campaign I cared about was when LFG ran for the Presidency of Wonders, her aftercare program when she was in the 2nd grade. I’m a strategy consultant but fearing a biased, daddy taint if I actively engaged too much in LFG’s campaign; I delegated the task to my one of my business partners and his daughter who is LFG’s age. And I've already been clear on the risk that politicians take when trying to wear hats or helmets. Candidate LFG on the other hand, rocked her little pillbox topper don'tcha think? Even her Chief of Staff, Gromit, is reasonably well topped in his rain hat.

Here’s my partner’s write up on the winning LFG campaign strategy…

*Strategy Works for Seven Year Olds

“LFG, age 7, recently decided to run for the Presidency of “Wonders”, her after school care program. When asked what she would rely upon to get votes, she paused for a moment to reflect on differentiating strategy options. Subsequently, she declared that the kids attending the aftercare program should be empowered to have more choice in the selection of activities and resources for their utilization.

LFG then concluded that she should hire the services of a strategy consultancy to assist in building a winning position around the theme of “kid’s choice”. L.T.I.  (Lauren, Tommy Inc.) was retained to craft the strategy. Lauren S___ weighed in on the “Choice” strategy and along with her associate, Tommy S___, created the following strategic playbook for LFG:

As part of the consulting arrangement with LFG for President, LTI (Lauren, Tommy, Inc.) have developed a strategy built on what LFG has said is most important to her constituency and designed to ensure her election as President of Post School Care…

Let us set the scenario…

LFG strides into the main play area and up to the Daisy Duck podium.  She turns, recognizes the Speaker of the Playground and those who were unable to attend due to nap time.  She grabs both sides of the podium and stares directly into the eyes of Madam Post School Care Facility Owner.  She pauses for dramatic effect and says…

“It’s all about making the Right Choices

The Right Choices for…

•             Healthier Snacks
•             Kid’s Toys in the Playroom
•             Frequent Field Trips
•             More Cooking Days

The CHOICE is really simple…LFG, the Right Choice!”

She stands still and relishes the applause, nods her head one time, turns and exits to the standing ovation she will so richly deserve.

LFG won a hard fought contest utilizing the well-honed “Choice” strategy created through the collaborative efforts of her team and L.T.I.”

*This is a true story. And yes, LFG won.


Silk Regimental said...

Nice stationery !

yoga teacher said...

Wow. Texas politicians did have a certain style. Did. I've got a hat recommendation for most of the current ones.
Going to hear RFK, Jr. speak next Monday. Will report back on whether he dresses as well as his daddy and uncles did!
(Third try to pass the robot test, and it's not even happy hour.)

Anonymous Texan said...

Before you do Caro,it is de rigueur down here to immerse yourself in J. Evetts Haley's " A Texan Looks at Lyndon". Coke Stevenson is the gold standard. Enuff said.

Richard M said...

The Truman et al pic reminds us what statesmen should look like.

ADG said...

Silk Reggie...it's easy to make your own stationery on the computer...

Richard...not only what they should look like--but what they should act like. I love the story in Acheson Country about Truman going out to Acheson's farm for an afternoon visit. Civilized.

AnonTexan...I'll have to check out Haley's book. But for now, I'm deep in the Caro stuff.

YogaOne...RFK Jr. won't hold a candle to his fathers or uncles, sartorially or rhetorically. His voice sounds as if he's gonna start crying any minute.

Richard M said...

ADG: I do have Acheson Country as well, and know his son, David, who is also an elegant chap.

TomB said...

Good post. But who can forget Tom Wolfe's Secret Vice essay in which he said that LBJ, after looking at Kennedy's suits must have thought "Yus, muh cluths look luk Irun Bouy uvverulls" and then ordered his tailor to make him look like a British diplomat! That is probably my favorite Wolfe passage of all time.

Anonymous said...

Constitutional history? If interested drop a line to Library@gunstonhall.org and I will arrange a tour of the Mansion & Archives for you-


Scale Worm said...

Great post as always.
I do not envy living that close to the big heated winds of politics that is that part of our great nation.
Thanks for continuing to write for us... Much appreciated!

Nehru Jackect said...

This garment was named after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.

Anonymous said...

".....we’d be better off morally and sartorially if United States foreign policy was still led by those patinated statesmen who wouldn’t dream of stepping out of the house unless swathed and shod in Chipp, J. Press, The Brethren Brooks or some visiting Savile Row tailor or cobbler."

Alger Hiss?

Unknown said...

Have you heard the recording of LBJ ordering some pants from Haggar? Hysterical.

ADG said...

Unknown...yes, I've heard the "Haggar Tapes" Funny...kinda.

AnonAlger...Hiss strikes me more as a Men's Wearhouse kinda guy.

ScaleWormington...thanks for reading my drivel.

MWGunston...who is you?

Nehru Jacketmon....sorry to be a smartass but... no shit.

TomB-Wolfe-Passage...I'm hoping to hell that Wolfe's new book doesn't disappoint.

RichardM...I hope that the Acheson's have kept their Maryland farm in the family.

Nehru jacket for men said...

This garment was named after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.

Inmonarch said...

The Nehru Jacket was one element of Indian dress that penetrated western dress styles.

ADG said...

Thank goodness the Nehru jacket was the only thing sartorially that took hold.