George W., the Ill-Suited President
By Stan Crock
So President George W. Bush now has most of his Cabinet in place. He has unveiled his education plan. And he has scheduled a trip to Mexico -- his first foreign foray as President. But none of those was the REALLY big Bush story of his 10 first days in office. Everybody missed this one: The President is clearly ill-suited for the job. I mean this in a sartorial sense.
He can't tie a tie. Look at the pictures. His knot is as awkward as his speeches with a Teleprompter. His tongue gets tied better than his cravat. But that's not all. Bush's shirt collars don't quite fit. And some of his outer-coat sleeves are too short. He's more pubescent than Presidential. If his father's Administration was J. Press, his is Not Pressed.
This is serious: Bush's tailoring troubles could have real-world consequences. How can he sit down with foreign leaders who shop on Saville Row or the Champs Elysee? Will Bush's clothes be the napkins?
I wonder if his appearance stems from his days at Andover. I attended that New England prep school just after Bush departed, and I can attest that taste was verboten. We had to wear dress pants and jackets and ties, but they didn't have to match. Even in the late spring, we had to wear jackets in class, but some of the guys tore off the backs of their shirts so they wouldn't be so hot. (This was a clever ploy except when a teacher occasionally gave us permission to take off our coats in class.) So, I understand the possible origins of Dubya's haphazard haberdashery.
Bush looks a lot more comfortable at his ranch in Crawford in informal attire. It just fits him a lot better -- which may tell us something about where he belongs. But he's our President. And he has to get used to this tie business. One of his first post-Inaugural edicts was to abolish casual dress in the White House, opting for traditional business attire.
That was a mistake. When President Clinton went casual, he tended to appear slightly paunchy. But casual dress is tailor-made for Bush. State dinners, of course, would have been an exception to a casual-dress code. But that would have been O.K. because Bush actually looked fine at the black-tie-and-boots Inaugural ball. Did he rent the tux? After all, he's one of the few people who might look better in rented apparel.
Maybe he'll grow into his clothes, just as folks hope he'll grow into the job. A man his age won't have trouble filling out shirt collars over time. I'm amazed at how mine shrink just hanging in the closet. The same thing happens to the waists of my pants -- a bunch get smaller all at once when I haven't even worn them. The tie could be more problematic for Bush. If he has that much trouble tieing it now, what will happen when arthritis strikes?
Fortunately, there's a simple solution to all of this. While Dubya is filling out his staff, he should carve out a role for Naomi Wolf. Remember her? She's the feminist author and clothes adviser Al Gore hired during the campaign for some obscene sum who told him to wear earth tones. Come to think of it, if Bush had hired her, maybe he would have really won the election.
Crock covers national security and foreign affairs for BusinessWeek from Washington
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht