The Audacity of Taupe
Exactly five years ago today (i.e. September 28, 2014) then-President Barack Obama became embroiled in what was the gravest (and to my knowledge, only) scandal of his administration. So what happened? After surviving “birtherism,” being damned for having bowed down to the Saudi King and assorted other heresies, the 44th POTUS had the utter gall to show up at a press conference clad in a . . . are you buckled up and ready for this? . . . a beige suit! Horror of Horrors!
Predictably, Fox News commentators came down on Obama for wearing the suit, claiming that he was “cheapening” the presidency; Representative Peter King (R-NY), who is still a member of the House, fumed that the suit “pointed to a lack of seriousness” on the president’s part. Five years later it’s hard to recall just how much press time this “scandal” consumed. Cable news shows held round-table discussions, fashion critics and image consultants weighed in, and TV news reporters conducted person-on-the-street interviews to find out what the people of Northeast Ohio thought of the controversial look. (Happy to report that to a person, they thought the question was absurd; that there were many things of far greater importance to discuss.)
Where Obama normally limited himself top either grey or blue suits and, unlike Gerald Ford never wore a vest, he by no means was the only president to wear a khaki-colored suit. Check out FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and JFK to see their color sense. Interestingly, most of them - including Barack Obama - had their suits made by the same tailor: “George of Paris” (née Georgios Christopoulos) of Kalamata, Greece. Unlike ‘45, who wears $5,000.00 suits that are tailored to hide his bulging gut, monumental tuchas and over-long red ties, Barack Obama was a fashion plate whether clad in jeans, or khaki slacks. He must have learned from my father - a wonderfully-tailored gentleman in his own right - who used to say that the best way to keep one’s weight in check was to find a great tailor whose prices were just a hair beyond your means. “This’ he used to say, “would force one to keep their size, shape and weight because five pounds one way or the other would cause your trousers and jackets to be obviously out of whack.”
But this is far from the purpose of this essay. As much as I may personally chortle at 45’s tailoring, I am far more disgusted by his absolute inability to laugh at himself. Where ‘45 responds to any negative comment about himself with all the vengeance of a tiger (long recognized as the most retaliatory creature on the planet) Barack Obama’s innumerable cracks about the suit became part of his repertoire of bad jokes: He told attendees of a September 2014 awards dinner for the Congressional Black Caucus that he would have worn his tan suit if the event wasn’t black-tie, and joked at his final news conference in January 2017 that he had been “sorely tempted” to wear a tan suit for the occasion.
And although after 5 years most fashionistas still contend that Obama’s taupe suit (no matter how impeccably tailored) was a boo boo, what shocks them most is that it came to dominate an entire news cycle. If this turns out to be the worst personal scandal of the eight Obama years, so be it. In comparison to what his successor has put the planet through over the past 19+ months, Obama’s “Audacity of “Taupe” is nothing more than a quaint twitter (pun intended) in the annals of presidential history. In retrospect, the Obama years now seem as innocent and charming as an episode of The Donna Reed Show. Of course they weren’t; after all, these were the 8 years which included Obama’s “red line in the sand” vis-à-vis Assad’s Syria, the assassination of Bin Laden and the deportation of more illegal immigrants than ‘45 ever dreamed of. And yes, for virtually everything Obama did, did not do, said or wore, he had tons of militant detractors.
But if anyone had looked into the political crystal ball and foretold that our next president would be known for monetizing his office; for making creepy comments about finding his own daughter attractive; for being investigated for allegedly colluding with Russia and obstructing justice; and for cozying up to dictators from Rio to Moscow to Pyongyang, we would have immediately sent that crystal ball to the repair shop and deported said seer to the lunatic asylum of Charenton.
What most of us crave is a return to sanity and maturity; to honesty and humility; to empathy and compassion . . . if not to far more use of the first person plural instead of a steady diet of the first person singular. And who knows, perhaps even a return to the audacity of taupe, if not pin stripes or power pantsuits . . .
435 days until the next election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone