Barack Obama's Post-Presidency Style
There he was with his hat backwards as a guest of Richard Branson's in the Virgin Islands. Then it was full on swagger in white on white. Then a leather jacket and decidedly un-dad jeans. And now, in New York City, top buttons undone and collared shirt opened for lunch with Bono, proving that every once in a while, a constitutional lawyer can upstage a rock star in the cool department.
Since leaving the White House, President Obama has made a few appearances, and in all of them, what he has chosen to wear has spoken volumes louder than his words, particularly poignant for a man who will go down in history as one of America's great orators. He has projected an air of relaxed confidence, and exuded a kind of effortless style that has left me thinking: is there a message in President Obama’s post-Presidency wardrobe?
I mean, seriously.
It's easy enough to conclude Mr. Obama is simply basking in some well-deserved R&R, and that may be. But is there more? After all, having been subjected to scrutiny about his appearance before (read: continuous dad jeans controversy and 2014 tan suit meltdown), he understands quite well that his sartorial selections carry weight. So, I ask, is all of the effortless cool actually a calculated political move?
One potential explanation is that Mr. Obama could be using his post-Presidency look to provide a striking visual contrast to the current President. As in, you don’t have to get their stances on the Affordable Care Act to see that these two men could not be more different. President Trump looks uptight; his tan and hair, and his late-night tweets, have all contributed to creating the image of a man who is simultaneously hyper-aware of his appearance, and yet, consistently appears ridiculous. With his cool and suave, by looking so with-it, is Mr. Obama trying to further highlight President Trump's ridiculousness?
Another explanation is that this elegant nonchalance is serving as a metaphor for Mr. Obama’s time as President. As we watch the United States face a series of unimaginable challenges, in fact, threats to the very principles it was founded upon, we are given the image of a man exuding in-control cool at a time when it feels to many that America is spiraling out of control. Is he, in effect, writing that narrative of the Obama years– you know, those rosy years when we had a rational and capable actor in the Office of President? In this way, Mr. Obama could be using his post-Presidential appearance a means to further cement his legacy by continuing to shape our understanding of Obama, the man, as a picture into Obama, the President.
Or, this could have nothing to do with us at all. Perhaps, after years of feeling the constraints of the position he occupied, Mr. Obama could be relishing in the opportunity to once again freely express himself with his clothing. To prevent decision fatigue as President, he wore either a gray or blue suit, from the same custom tailor, for many years. Maybe it's not that he's using his wardrobe to send us a message, but to connect to himself, and to figure out who he is outside of the role that has defined every facet of his life for the last eight years.
Whether Mr. Obama is making a political message, or a personal one, or if he's simply in relaxation mode, we have taken notice. Maybe that should serve as a reminder that although so much circulates about the superficiality of what we wear and how we look, at the end of the day, appearance matters. I say, we take a page from President Obama's book and use that knowledge wisely.