Among the lesser parts of Donald Trump’s legacy is the possibility that he was actually one of the flashiest presidents in U.S. history when it comes to fashion.
Throughout his term, Trump managed to cement an iconic look all his own: for better or for worse is certainly open to interpretation. His custom Brioni suits (also favored by Barack Obama) were shaped by a roomy, relaxed, larger-than-life silhouette as opposed to the slim, tailored look that’s dominated menswear over the past decade. His ties were large and long, hanging down past his shirt in a clear message of machismo. His black leather shoes had lifts disguised by drapey trousers. And who could forget the red hat, an accessory that will go down in history as one of the most controversial fashion items of all time for its supremacist allusions, and the hatred and violence that has come from some of those who wear it.
The Trump bravado lives in stark contrast — but also in a parallel world — to the aesthetic of president-elect Joe Biden. The President-elect’s lack of a fashion statement is being confronted by an industry that is more willing than ever to go political, and increasingly attuned to the nuances (and fashion credits) of all public figures, from rock stars to TikTok’ers to any elected official with enough of a social media following. As the administration kicks off its term, it will bring with it an increased attention to fashion and fashion symbolism in a space where fashion used to not matter so much.
It is rumored that Biden will wear Ralph Lauren at tomorrow’s inauguration, following a longstanding affinity he and his wife Jill have had for the brand. If he does, he will extend a long tradition of U.S. presidents wearing and supporting American brands in their suiting (Biden and his wife Jill are also reportedly longtime fans of the brand). Obama had Hartmarx from Chicago. George W. Bush had Gassane Tailors in Austin, Tex. Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump have all gone to the Brooklyn-based Martin Greenfield, an Auschwitz survivor turned turned tailor, now 92.
But Biden will also be breaking tradition. The privilege of inauguration fashion — at least when it comes to outerwear — has long been given to Brooks Brothers, the 223-year-old New York-based clothier that has outfitted everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant to John F. Kennedy, Obama and Trump. By opting for Ralph Lauren, the president could be turning a corner on the tradition. He could also be inviting in more prominent American fashion brands.
There wasn’t much to say about Biden’s personal style until his aviators came to pop culture. When he first signed on to Instagram in 2014, then-Vice-President Biden’s first post was of a pair of his Ray-Bans, sitting atop his desk, with himself in the background. The eyewear had quickly become part of the VP’s jovial persona, a statement in contrast to a lifetime wardrobe of well-cut but nondescript navy suits with no-nonsense ties.
Biden’s wardrobe isn’t likely to change all that much when he becomes president — we won’t be seeing him in full runway looks anytime soon. But it’s not unlikely that his most ardent supporters in the fashion industry might help to supply him with more polished, spiffed-up versions of his usual dark suits and clean ties, plus updates to his off-duty signatures. There’s no doubt that a showroom full of Biden-inspired leather bomber jackets lives somewhere at Ralph Lauren’s headquarters.
Subtle suiting and off-duty style already seem to be fast hallmarks for Doug Emhoff, the husband of vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. With his jeans-and-blazer combos, slim puffer jackets, an all-navy palette — and a notable penchant for matching his wife (most recently in coordinating gray suiting for their joint interview on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” with Jane Pauley), the very first second gentleman in U.S. history has a personal style that plenty of Baby Boomers can relate to.
It’s a non-sweatpants type of casual dressing, not formal but still put together, a look that Emhoff, a lawyer, perfected for himself on the campaign trail back in the fall but also seen more recently in volunteer outings with Harris. The wardrobe also echoes Harris’s own fashion statements, which are casual but deliberate.
Emhoff has also served as the proverbial cheerleader for his barrier-breaking wife, regularly donning Biden Harris t-shirts on the campaign trail, touting Harris’s role as the first Madame Vice President. It’s a role he’s seemed to lean into heavily, purposefully challenging traditional gender roles.
With his easygoing demeanor and persona as a fun-loving father, Emhoff could also easily take over the mantle of “dad” style purveyor, a role that Obama helped to shape with his off-duty vacation looks. With a little sneaker advice from his wife, the Second Gentleman might even become an influencer in his own right.