Sean Spicer Fixed His Suits. What About the Ties?


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Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, in January.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Sartorially speaking, these are strange days in the White House. President Trump, as has been widely noted, tapes his neckties, wears them so egregiously long that they droop to his fly and has a tendency to leave his suit jackets unbuttoned to flap in the wind. So habitually rumpled and layered is Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, that he sometimes seems — as Esquire recently noted — to be wearing half the contents of his closet at once.

Then there is the matter of the White House press secretary.

In a little over a month on the job, Sean Spicer, a thickset former Republican National Committee strategist and Navy reservist, has found himself likened in style terms to a graduate of clown college and a used-car salesman, and has also inspired Melissa McCarthy’s indelible “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of him as a gum-swallowing bully in an outsize suit and a necktie so bulky you would need a bulldozer to press it.

Like much else about the current administration, Mr. Spicer’s appearance breaks with tradition, in this case of customs long maintained by those who serve as the president’s official mouthpiece.

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Mr. Spicer at a briefing on Feb. 27.

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Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

If anyone recalls Josh Earnest, Mike McCurry or Scott McClellan — White House press secretaries who served Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — it is assuredly not because they wore unfortunate neckties or suits that looked like a big brother’s ill-fitting hand-me-downs.

Douglas Hand, a professor of fashion law at New York University and an expert on professional dress, said that as messenger of his president’s agenda, the White House press secretary should have an ability to remain invisible.

“At a moment when you are communicating great grief and sorrow, your tie should not be front and center in people’s minds,” said Mr. Hand, referring to a briefing last week.

Mr. Spicer was responding to remarks made by Bill Owens — the father of Chief Petty Officer William Owens, a Navy SEAL team member known as Ryan — who has called for an investigation into the raid in Yemen during which his son was killed. Undercutting Mr. Spicer’s solemn condolence to Mr. Owens, and his assurance that the raid was crucial to national safety, was the unusual necktie he chose: a combination of garish red, silver and baby blue stripes on a ground of electric Gatorade blue.

“He shouldn’t be the story, and his clothes certainly should not be the story,” Mr. Hand said.

Yet from his first days in one of the world’s most high-profile jobs, Mr. Spicer’s apparel attracted so much attention that a GoFundMe campaign was initiated to help him get a new wardrobe. (As of Friday, it had raised $685; the proceeds, the page says, will be donated to Planned Parenthood.) Reportedly at his boss’s urging, Mr. Spicer quickly switched out his original boxy jackets — the ones with shoulders seemingly inspired by either the Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia or else by Tom Brady’s sideline coat, with collars that floated around his neck like an oxen yoke — for marginally better fitting models.

He even, according to a local television station, visited a Washington franchise of BookATailor, a custom clothing company based in New York, and a few days later walked out with a trimmer, more form-fitting suit. Yet, despite these welcome modifications to a dress style that served as an unwitting tutorial on how not to wear a suit, Mr. Spicer has stuck to his attention-grabbing neckwear, ties not only carnival-barker garish but also manifestly wrong in other ways.

“Someone evidently had a word with him and he ran out and got a new suit or two, though basically I didn’t think there was anything terribly wrong with what he wore before,” said Nick Sullivan, the style director of Esquire.

Mr. Spicer’s ties, on the other hand — like many of those sold under Mr. Trump’s own label — continue to be thick and shiny: “turgid pieces of silk,” as Mr. Sullivan said, in colors like an outlandish lime green or purple covered in polka dots.

Far from the most serious issue facing a Trump administration, Mr. Spicer’s distracting neckwear still troubles those who bother to address themselves to the meanings subtly coded into our clothes. “Style is semiotics,” Mr. Sullivan said. “If a man’s message is, ‘Yeah, but look at my tie,’ that seems like anything other than the actual message he should be putting across.”

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