One Memorable Look: Mr Barack Obama’s Tan Suit

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One Memorable Look: Mr Barack Obama’s Tan Suit

Words by Ms Roni Omikorede

4 August 2020

It came as a shock. We never expected President Barack H Obama to send us nudes. Of course, the “nude” in question is the tan suit he wore in August 2014. Best known for championing “dad style” and almost making dad jeans cool, No. 44 was usually seen going about his business of running the United States of America in a navy suit, with a flag pin on his lapel. The only variation on this look would be the colour of his tie, or, gasp, no tie at all. So, this, the tan suit, was a departure.

It was also divisive. “President Obama Shames America By Wearing Wack-Ass Tan Suit” read Gawker’s headline. “No One Heard Anything Obama Just Said Because His Tan Suit Was So Loud” was The Atlantic’s conclusion of his White House press briefing on Syria. The Twitterverse, of course, exploded. An account was created for the suit (@Tan_Suit) and #YesWeTan was a trending topic. Fox News declared it an impeachable offence and called him a Marxist. On the fifth anniversary of Tansuitgate last year, a Reddit user celebrated the outfit with “Behold Obama’s only scandal”. Others didn’t mind it: the Los Angeles Times told people to “Stop freaking out, Internet, it’s actually stylish”.

The following day, the president had to defend his sartorial choice via his press secretary Mr Josh Earnest, who reported that “the president stands squarely behind the decision that he made to wear his summer suit at yesterday’s news conference. It’s the Thursday before Labor Day, he feels pretty good about it.” Pretty good enough to wear on at least three occasions that we know of: to a wedding in Chicago in 2012, a church service on Easter Sunday in 2014 and the infamous press conference.

President Barack Obama leaves the White House with Ms Michelle Obama to attend a church service in Washington DC, 20 April 2014. Photograph by Mr Olivier Douliery/DPA/

Me? I loved it. Usually, standards fall when the temperature rises and summer dressing for most people means baggy shorts and T-shirts, and socks with sandals (actually: this is a good thing now). And even presidents want to stay cool when the weather is hot. Who are we to say his choice was wrong? Let the man get his Atticus Finch on. As contentious as it was, President Obama was actually following one of the many style rules we espouse on this very site: to lighten up in the warmer months. A suit in a neutral colour such as cream, ivory or beige makes you look elegant and pristine (and says you have no intention of eating or drinking that day). It shows off a sense of style that the uniform of navy suits does not allow. Or maybe the president wanted to match his outfit to the First Lady’s to cement their standing as #couplegoals.

Most notably, it now represents a simpler time in history, a time when we could actually wear our summer ’fits outside of the house; a time when we could tell the days apart (today is Tuesday, and Mr Obama’s birthday, by the way), a time when the biggest presidential scandal was the colour of a suit.

The key lesson to take away from President Obama’s foray into tan suitdom is to explore the places outside of our comfort zones, sartorial or otherwise. Take a risk. Upset the status quo. Try something new (no, not TikTok). For President Obama, at least he can take some comfort in knowing that he’s one of the few people in government to pull off the tan suit. Mr Mitch McConnell wishes he could.

The audacity of taupe