Presidential Fashion Statements

Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU and author of the forthcoming Nice Work If You Can Get It (NYU Press 2009), provided much of the commentary for a recent NYTimes article on Obama’s post-election fashion.

Andrew Ross, a professor and chairman of the department of social and cultural analysis at New York University, points out that informality in presidents isn’t just about looking relaxed. “It’s intended to convey clear-cut messages,” Mr. Ross said. He cited the examples of Jimmy Carter, who wore a cardigan when he asked Americans to turn down their thermostats and save energy; and Mr. Reagan, whose khakis and jeans projected a frontier mentality that jibed with his view of big government.

“It remains a fact that white males can dress down much more easily than women and minorities,” he said. That’s because, unlike white males, their formal rights have never been secure. Hence they lean toward more formal attire.

Referring to casual dress, he added: “There are just too many traps involving black male stereotypes that Obama could fall into. He’s likely to be on guard.”

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