Do Dress Sneakers Belong in the Oval Office?”
Washington DC Complex dress code.
The release of the above photo of Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Hakeem Jeffries meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamal Harris in the Oval Office caused quite a stir.
NYT style columnist Guy Trebay asks, “Do Dress Sneakers Belong in the Oval Office?”
Think of it as a rare instance of cross-aisle consensus or else a sartorial trend gone badly wrong. But it did not go unnoticed when, in a photograph from the Oval Office posted to President Joe Biden’s account this week, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Hakeem Jeffries were all captured wearing some variant of the dreaded footwear hybrid: the sneaker shoe.
Weighing in on Twitter, cult men’s wear commentator Derek Guy (@dieworkwear) called out the footgear as a clear lapse in dignity, if not actual protocol. Why pay a visit to a sitting president dressed in shoes designed for power-walking at the mall?
“Awful,” Yang-Yi Goh, style director of GQ, pronounced the shoe that has become a style default among Capitol Hill staffers.
Yeezy on the sole and granddad on the uppers, the Cole Haan shoes (Mr. McConnell, for the record, was wearing the label’s ZeroGrand; Mr. McCarthy, the Osborn; and Mr. Jeffries, the Grand Crosscourt II) have neither the street cred nor the advantages of actual sneakers, like the Nike Dunk Low “Montreal Bagel” model that stoked debate when the “Ted Lasso’’ star Jason Sudeikis and his castmates wore them to the Oval Office in March — there to discuss mental health care in the United States.
“Call me old fashioned but no man should set foot in the Oval Office without dress shoes and especially not sneakers,” the political commentator Saagar Enjeti said at the time, unleashing further invective in a Twitter post: “4 guys. No ties, 3 pairs of sneakers in the Oval Office. This country is going to hell.”
Dressing for a career in politics means stashing an “emergency blazer” at your desk and avoiding dry cleaning at all costs.
hand, I’d say none but the lady on the right were dressed appropriately for a White House visit. I’ve always worn a full suit when visiting the Hill or the White House (the latter on tours, not Presidential meetings). But maybe they intentionally went in character. (I have yet to see the show but certainly Sudeikis appears tooe be doing so.)
Congressmen visiting the Oval is a different thing entirely. I could see casual attire for, say, a weekend work meeting in which the President is similarly dressed down. But dressing less formally than the big guy just seems disrespectful.
The fashionistas seem to agree:
But is wearing a squishy shoe that masquerades as a hard-soled one really all that terrible? “The hybrid is the worst possible choice,” said Mr. Goh of GQ, the footwear version of political bait-and-switch, akin to a novelty tie or a garish pocket square. It does not help matters much when, as in the cases of Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Jeffries, the soles of your shoes are glaring operating-room white and the accompanying socks are striped.
“You’re trying to pass this tech-y monstrosity off as a proper dress shoe,” Mr. Goh said, adding that a suit and necktie worn with a traditional hard-soled shoe symbolize respect for occasion, in this case a meeting with the most powerful man on earth.
For Jim Moore, the creative director of GQ and the styl
Everyday fashion on Capitol Hill doesn’t look like much from afar. Our attention is inevitably diverted to the most famous and powerful people, and only when their outfit choices are especially bizarre, heavy with meaning, or expensive in an inflammatory way. What we know of everyone else’s style tends to come from the pictures at the top of articles about hearings and State of the Union addresses. What it looks like is indistinguishable suits and blazers in dark colors.
Naturally, things are more complicated than that in a town where optics count for a lot (and in any town, for that matter). People who work on the Hill say that it’s full of its own dress codes and particularities — they just exist in shades of business casual. I spoke to four Hill staffers about how they dress for work, where they shop, and how they do it on a government salary. (Proximity to power doesn’t guarantee a big clothing budget.) They didn’t all have identical experiences, but Republican or Democrat, they did agree on a few major points.
Capitol Hill has its own set of fashion rules, spoken and otherwise
Jen*, a staffer working for a Democratic senator: Every individual senate office is like its own small business. The tone when it comes to vacation policy and office hierarchy and dress code is set by every office independently. I have the benefit of working for someone who is really pragmatic about dressing and would prefer that people are in comfortable shoes as opposed to stylish shoes. I think there are other offices that put more of a premium on presentation, so their dress codes are stricter.
That said, Congress is an institution, and it’s an arcane institution. There are rules about what you can and can’t wear on the senate floor. Men have to be in suit and tie. For women, if you’re wearing a dress, you have to have your shoulders covered. If you’re wearing slacks, you have to wear a jacket. One day I was in slacks and a sweater and I tried to swipe onto the floor and the sergeant at arms said, “You can’t be out there, you don’t have a jacket on.” My boss was with me and was like, “Really?” They were like, “Unfortunately, she can’t accompany you.”