The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is an annual fundraiser for Catholic charities best known for being headlined by the two main presidential candidates during U.S. election years. Together with the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner for the sitting president and journalists it is one of the last surviving high-profile White Tie affairs in America. Sadly, the picture these occasions paint for the tailcoat tradition in that country is a bleak one.
In regards to the Gridiron Club, President Obama has skipped the dinner in three of the past four years and when he did bother to attend in 2011 it was in a tuxedo. That same year Washington Post columnist Robert McCarthy criticized the historic tradition in the pages of the august newspaper:
Wake up, Gridiron. You’re losing your cachet. All the archaic stuff on which you’ve prided yourselves for so many years — the white-tie dress code, the privacy — is just looking, well, archaic.
The Alfred Smith dinner does not suffer from the same lack of prestige or VIP attendance judging by the appearance of keynote speakers Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and their adherence to the White Tie dress code. However, their interpretation of the code was a sad one indeed and did nothing to help its image.
President Obama’s outfit repeated his past gaffes of opting for a turndown collar and what looks suspiciously like a pre-tied tie. His shirt lacked the reinforced dressy bosom of a proper formal shirt (note the difference between the pure white of the double-layer placket and the greyish white of the rest of the shirt front) as well as the traditional single-link cuffs. The president’s trousers sagged below his waistline but at least his waistcoat didn’t follow suit as is typical among American men unfamiliar with the art of the evening tailcoat.
Governor Romney shared an entirely different array of faux pas. While his shirt collar was of the wing variety (albeit the inferior modern interpretation) and his bow tie appeared hand tied the latter was not kept in place below the jacket collar resulting in an exposed metal clasp. Worse of all was the wide swath of white vest jutting below the tailcoat, a shoddy oversight more suggestive of a candidate for prom king than for President of the United States. Romney’s white-tie humour fared better than his white-tie attire when he poked fun at his controversial wealth:
A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes — blue jeans in the morning perhaps, suits for lunch fundraisers, a sport coat for dinner. But it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.
Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel and just switch to Black Tie. Judging by the Associated Press’s description of the candidates’ attire as “tuxedos and white ties”, most Americans wouldn’t even know the difference.
Thanks to readers Adam Williamson and Hans Servando for suggesting this post.