President Donald Trump and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott met to discuss the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests. Image: Business Insider
By Jon Michail
Last week, President Trump did something truly terrible. He murdered style. Again.
No – it’s not one of those optical illusion photos where you think the dress is green only to find out that it is actually purple, causing you to question your very sanity.
That is a navy suit jacket paired with black pants.
I KNOW! What was he thinking?
By now you might have guessed that this post is more concerned with sartorial style than with politics. I’ll leave the analysis of what was arguably a very important meeting to others.
Due to mixed messages, we have been conditioned not to expect a lot from Trump in the sartorial stakes, but it is still a little hard to understand how something like this could just happen. The President is in the public eye – he has minders, he has advisors, and even his own fashion range. He was going to a photo opportunity.
When the photo was taken, so that the Whitehouse could joyfully announce that “President Trump remains committed to positive race relations,” I imagine some poor Whitehouse staffer calculating whether an offer to fetch Trump a more, ah, appropriate jacket, would be met with an immediate response of “YOU’RE FIRED!”
So, what’s the problem?
Whether we like it or not, we judge people on the way they dress. Even more so if that person happens to be the “leader of the free world.” It’s a quick way of assessing whether they understand and adhere to some basic rules of society.
Sometimes breaking the rules can be positive – take Sen. Tim Scott’s polka dot socks for an example. Mixing things up a little in a job where dress is usually conservative shows that politicians are human like the rest of us.
Trump likes to break the rules, but this is the wrong way to do so. A mistake like this looks sloppy – like he got dressed in the dark, or his eyesight is failing – not the best image for a president who has built his platform on strength. One quick-witted comedian inferred this may even be a symptom of something worse.
I think there’s something to that statement. The ability to dress yourself properly is a sign that you can “adult”. Infants and the elderly need someone else to dress them. It’s a big ask to place trust in someone who can’t seem to get the basics right. It’s hard to ask people to follow a leader who doesn’t seem to understand what is expected of them.
Method in the madness?
Then again, as with other great Trump mysteries, maybe there’s method in the madness. Much has been made of the baggy, unsophisticated style of Trump’s suits. Turns out, however, that most of them are from the ever elegant Italian label Brioni. These are beautiful and expensive suits (worn to great effect by Hollywood heartthrobs such as Will Smith and Michael Fassbender, and heads of state like the late, great, Nelson Mandela.) So why would Trump buy these suits “off the rack,” several sizes too big, when he can afford to have them custom made?
The simple answer is that it’s all part of his image. Some people thought that Trump becoming president was a joke, because they thought the man himself was a joke. Look what happened.
Trump is bold and brash and brags about his wealth. He is the archetype of nouveau riche – a term which is intended as an insult. Something the Old Money would say, looking down their aquiline noses at the hillbilly from Hicksville who is suddenly flush with cash but has failed to acquire taste.
But Trump invites insult. Call him racist, sexist, incompetent. He’ll keep on saying the same old things. Only this time he’ll say them louder.
This is his image – this is who he authentically is. He doesn’t care about the rules (and that, at times, is a good thing.) He doesn’t come from the elite, and he has no desire to be one of them. His off the rack suit speaks to his constituency, while custom-tailored speaks elite.
Trump is proudly nouveau riche. Cashed up, powerful, and over-the-top. And that is why he wears suits that are too large, and probably the reason he wears black pants with navy jackets.
And somehow, it may be mind-boggling, but somehow, it all comes together and works for him.
So should we all time-warp back to the 80s and start wearing suits that look like they could swallow us whole?
Of course not.
Trump is an anomaly. A strange blip in history. The hair, the suits, the determination to say whatever-the-hell-he-wants. Trump’s personal brand works for him, and yes, it has brought him success – that is the lesson we can take from this.
I know it all sounds a little trite, a little “you do you.” But you know what? A strong personal brand is a powerful thing. It’s all you’ve got. So you should do you. Not Trump. Please.
I’d love to know what you think?
Jon Michail and his team at Image Group International partner with their clients to achieve breakthrough results with contrarian and disruptive ways to grow and monetise their personal and business brands. A veteran coach with a Who’s Who clientele, Jon is the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents. He is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.