How Should The US’s First “Second Gentleman” Dress? Glad You Asked…
When Ms Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the US, she’ll be making history: the first woman, the first Black woman and the first South Indian woman to serve in that position. But don’t forget that her husband, Mr Douglas Emhoff, will similarly be making history as the nation’s very first “Second Gentleman”.
Which, naturally, begs the question: what will he wear?
Each tie, pocket square or subtle flash of colour from a statement sock will no doubt be pored over by experts (and non experts, of course) for their deeper sartorial meaning. Every label worn – was that Prada or Ralph Lauren? Todd Snyder or TOM FORD? – will be studied like the Dead Sea Scrolls for any clues to its diplomatic implications. In the way that pundits dissected Ms Michelle Obama’s bare arms or Ms Melania Trump’s stiletto heels, we’re certain the same amount of scrutiny will extend to the White House’s groundbreaking male counterpart – right?
Well, that remains to be seen.
“He can make this role,” says Mr Andrew Weitz of The Weitz Effect, a personal image consultant and stylist. “But he’s got to look the part.” Mr Emhoff occupies a special position – in that he’s not the First Gentleman, which would be a much more visible role, while being the first man to hold this specific title. Therefore, as Mr Weitz says, when it comes to his wardrobe, “he has some leeway”.
Mr Weitz recognises that Mr Emhoff, a lawyer and future law professor, already has a good foundation. “He knows how to dress. He just needs a bit of a polish.” That means really nailing the fit of his clothes and then honing in on details or “those little nods to whatever event he’s attending.” Crucially, Mr Weitz also notes that the Second Gentleman is now, in many ways, an ornamental figure to his wife, and as such, he should take his cues from what Ms Harris is wearing and dress accordingly – he wants to complement the Vice President, not distract from her.
With all this in mind, we have some ideas for what Mr Emhoff can, and should, be thinking when it comes to certain events during his momentous upcoming term.
Mr Douglas Emhoff and Ms Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware, 19 August 2020. Photograph by Mr Adam Schultz/Polaris/eyevine
A state dinner
State dinners are tricky work, hobnobbing with world leaders in a formal setting while making table talk. But they’re also a chance to flex both one’s aesthetic and ambassadorial dexterity. Ms Obama and, across the pond, the Duchess of Cambridge, are notably good at this – and would be excellent templates to follow.
While formal occasions require that one adhere to the rather inelastic codes of formal dressing, Mr Weitz points to an inky-blue shawl-collar tuxedo worn by Mr Emhoff at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscars party as a good jumping-off point – a demonstration that he knows the rules and yet isn’t afraid of bending them just the right amount. But here’s a bit of advice for when it comes to the politics of dressing: it would be wise for Mr Emhoff to wear American designers when possible (Mr Donald Trump, it should be said, often wore Italian label Brioni).
A design by Mr Tom Ford would be perfect for such an occasion, and is a subtle nod to Mr Emhoff’s career as an entertainment lawyer who resided in Los Angeles. TOM FORD, naturally, has a classic style on offer, but Mr Emhoff could add a dash of unexpected brio with a velvet jacket with a shawl collar, which we know he is comfortable with. Or, if he’s feeling wild, some zebra stripes to get the Washington press corps’ tongues wagging – but, he risks upstaging his wife, the guest of honour and the event as a whole. “The number one thing would be tailoring,” says Mr Weitz. “Then it comes down to the fabrics and, of course, an extra pop. It could be anything such as the colour of the shirt, a pocket square, the cufflinks,” he adds. “When it’s done properly, people notice.”
A Hollywood fundraiser
Here, Mr Emhoff is more in his element – he comes, after all, from the world of entertainment (he’s since left his law firm and will be teaching during Ms Harris’ term). And, while it may not seem like work, per se, attending events such as fundraisers is a key responsibility of a politician’s spouse, regardless of gender.
But, in Hollywood, dress codes are more creative and this is a chance for Mr Emhoff to let loose. Take this rakish, double-breasted Blackwatch check suit from the New York-based brand Aimé Leon Dore, made with the legendary Brooklyn tailor Mr Martin Greenfield (who has a long history dressing US presidents and other politicians). With its relaxed fit and bold riff on a heritage menswear pattern, it’s got swagger to spare and nods to traditional sartorial codes. An added bonus is that the suit, which also comes in an eye-catching herringbone, is reasonably priced. Prohibitively priced items should be avoided, when possible, to maintain a “man of the people” vibe. However, there are exceptions. Should Mr Emhoff find himself invited to, say, the annual LACMA Gala, it’s only polite to wear something from the host, Gucci – that’s just good manners. And if that’s the case, why not experiment for the night and indulge in the brand’s logo two-piece suit? Though it’s probably wise to make sure people know it was borrowed for the event and Mr Weitz, as a rule, says it’s best to avoid flashy logos – especially as a government spouse. No one wants to find themselves in a Ms Louise Linton situation.
A weekend at Martha’s Vineyard
Even VPs deserve some R&R and should Mr Emhoff find himself enjoying a little time away from the VP’s stately residence at the beloved presidential getaway spot, he can finally loosen the collar and ditch the jacket, so to speak. From relaxed dinners to oceanside sunbathing to maybe even a round or two of golf, the island’s dress code is a bit more relaxed than his typical day-to-day.
“He should stick with who he is and be cognisant of his surroundings,” Mr Weitz advises. “The difference between him and, say, a CEO is that he’s going to be photographed – constantly. He’s the Vice President’s husband.” Things he should have on-hand, then, are “the right pair of jeans, the right pair of chinos, the right sneakers, or hoodie, or sweater.” Of course you can dress it up with a casual, unlined blazer. Luckily, there are plenty of easy pieces from American stalwarts that have made careers making relaxed sportswear, from Mr Ralph Lauren to the former J.Crew mastermind Mr Todd Snyder to the avant-garde leaning Thom Browne (who also peddles in plenty of classic men’s pieces). But we wouldn’t mind seeing Mr Emhoff try to incorporate some younger American upstarts in the mix (say, promising brands such as BODE or Alex Mill) or even slyly referencing one of the nation’s greatest fashion achievements: streetwear. Listen, we’re not saying he should step out in, say, a full tracksuit, but one could easily incorporate some cool elements from Stüssy or John Elliott and, when worn in the right way, look effortlessly cool, laid-back, sporty and, well, American.
Or, of course, he could just go all-in with tie-dye. Given the current political climate, anything could happen.
And about masks…
Guys. We’ve still got a few more months of masks ahead of us. And Mr Emhoff won’t merely be looked at as the VP’s arm candy, he’s expected to set an example. So, Mr Weitz recommends that he should think about how he wants to approach mask-wearing – does he want to go with clinical KN95s, the dutiful surgical masks in blue or black, or something with a little more personality?
Like all of the above, he strongly advises Mr Emhoff find one that fits his face nicely first. Once that’s taken care of, he could use colour, fabric and prints to have a little fun with it, like a pocket square for your face. Might as well make the best of the situation.
Illustration by Mr Jason Raish