Style in American Politics

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In honor of Election Day, I thought I’d post these photos from Richard Avedon. They were originally shot in 1976, during an era that reshaped American politics. At the time, the country was feeling beleaguered from a decade of war and scandal. Things such as the Vietnam conflict, Watergate, and President Nixon’s resignation left public morale at an all time low. Some say trust in government has never been the same since. 

With the presidential election that year looming, the editors at Rolling Stone asked Richard Avedon if he would be interested in covering the campaigns of the two leading candidates, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Avedon countered with something more interesting: how about they dedicate an entire issue to people who hold power? Not just political, but economic and social. He could then shoot the portraits. 

Collectively known as “The Family,” the series was published in Rolling Stone two weeks before the 1976 Presidential election (which Carter won). The series includes 69 (nice) black-and-white photographs in Avedon’s inimitable style – formal, personal, and minimalistic. Among the many subjects included, there were Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush, and Reagan; much younger looking versions of Ralph Nader, Henry Kissinger, and Donald Rumsfeld; Cesar Chavez; and the guy who I use as my avatar, Elliot Lee Richardson (who I think is wearing a perfectly proportioned suit). 

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This might have been the last decade for the coat-and-tie look in American political campaigning. Three years earlier, Time Magazine published “Goodbye to Wingtips,” an article about how the traditional Brooks Brothers uniform has become something of a liability. It symbolized everything an angry public hated: the idea that some establishment class was out of step with the American people, and secretly serving the interests of the powerful instead of the many. 

Interestingly, Donald Trump, who has campaigned all year as “the outsider,” has gone back to the suit-and-tie look. Partly as a way to signal that he’s a successful businessman, not a politician (who, today, are mostly seen in business-casual dress when they’re out on the campaign trails). Whereas other politicians dress down to say “I’m just like you,” Donald Trump seems to wear a suit to say “I’m not.” 

Anyway, “The Family” includes a good number of women. Since today’s election might give us our first female president, I should probably include them, but since this is ostensibly a menswear blog, I’m just focusing on outfits I like. You can see the whole series, however, at Avedon’s website

Oh, and go out and vote today. You can find your nearest polling place at Rock the Vote.

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