Town Halls and T-Shirts
WaPo fashion critic Robin Givhan has irked some conservative bloggers by going after the town hall protesters for being a mite casual in their choice of couture.
By and large, the shouters are dressed in a way that underscores their Average Guy — or Gal — bona fides. They are wearing T-shirts, baseball caps, promotional polo shirts and sundresses with bra straps sliding down their arm. They wear fuchsia bandannas and American-flag hankies wrapped around their skulls like sweatbands. A lot of them look as though they could be attending a sporting event and, as it turns out, the congressman is the opposing player they have decided to heckle. If not for the prohibition on signs and banners inside these meetings, one could well expect to see some of these volatile worker bees wearing face paint and foam fingers, albeit the highlighted digit would be one expressing foul displeasure rather than competitive rank or skill level.
The common man, in his T-shirt and jeans, is shouting passionately at “the suit.” In the videos from these meetings, audio is unnecessary. It’s clear who’s in charge and who is shouting into the wind.
What would happen if all those unhappy townspeople showed up for these meetings in suit jackets, like high school debaters prepared to take on their opponents with facts and nimble intellect rather than histrionics? Would they garner more respect? Would they compel more lawmakers to rethink their positions rather than merely repeat, again and again — in a voice that has the tone of an impatient kindergarten teacher — the same core points?
Washington’s power brokers have suited up to underscore their authority and the seriousness of the subject matter. And bully for them. But their attire also says: I am the boss of you. All those howling citizens — in their T-shirts and ball caps and baggy shorts — are saying: No, you’re not.
Glenn Reynolds thinks Givhan is “underscoring the press’s identification with the rulers rather than with the ruled” and observes, “There was a time when journalists were badly-dressed working stiffs, rather than upper-middle-class strivers putting on airs.”
Ann Althouse thinks Givhan is obsessed with men’s suits and wonders why she didn’t write a column about the Beer Summit, where men sat awkwardly in suits drinking beer in the sweltering sun.
Pundette says “Givhan reveals so much contempt for the poorly dressed masses that one wonders whether her chief motive in writing this is to run them down.” P.J. Gladnick chimes in with “dripping with disdain.” And Fausta Wertz thinks Givhan’s missing the real story behind the protests.
Steve Gilbert points out, “The angry mob just can’t win. One day they are mocked for dressing like Brooks Brothers. And the next we have this.”
And Don Surber notes that Democrats wear t-shirts, too!
Now, I’m far from Robin Givhan‘s biggest fan. She first came to my attention in January 2005 for her post on Dick Cheney’s Auschwitz outfit. She followed up with commentaries on Condi Rice’s commanding clothes, John Bolton’s hair, John Roberts’s 1950s family, and Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. Let’s just say the New Yorker hasn’t come clamoring for her services. (Although, in fairness, she won a Pulitzer for this stuff!)
But doesn’t she have something of a point here?
Sure, our elected representatives work for us. Accordingly, they wear suits when meeting with us as a sign of respect for their bosses and to demonstrate that they’re serious people worthy of our continued trust.
But we each represent ourselves. How we dress sends signals about sort of people we are.
And this isn’t about social class. Attorneys and executives are going to dress differently on the job than truck drivers and farmers. Most likely, they’re going to own nicer, more expensive clothes, too. But just as attorneys shouldn’t wear $1500 suits to a picnic, truck drivers shouldn’t wear sweaty overalls when they’re dining out with their families.
People going to a town hall meeting with their Congressman should dress in a way that shows respect for the occasion, their fellow citizens, and themselves. T-shirts and flip flops are great for sitting around watching TV or grilling burgers in the backyard. But I change into better attire than that for a trip to the supermarket.
It’s true that reporters were, once upon a time, on the same financial and educational level as cops and teachers and firefighters. Most likely, their clothes were shabbier in those days. But I bet they all showed up in suits when they went to City Hall.