Alfred E. Smith Dinner 2012

(Ryan Brenizer)

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.

(Ryan Brenizer)

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.

(Associated Press)

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.

24 Comments

  1. CAGuy

    Agree with everything you said. But as long as we’re on the subject of gaffes, permit me to point out one in your blog. You say, “In regards to the Gridiron Club.” It should be “in regard to,” not “in regards to.” Common mistake, and one that Romney makes nearly every time he speaks.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Thanks, I’ll note that for the future!

      Reply
      1. Adam Williamson

        I think it’s one of those things where people mix up two cliches – there’s ‘in regard to’ and ‘as regards’.

        Reply
  2. Brad Ross

    What is it with the oval office’s protocol department? And for that matter, Mitt Romney’s campaign advisers? You’d think in such positions as theirs that they’d have SOMEBODY who knew the nuances of traditional dress! American politicians used to know how to dress properly – take President Kennedy in morning attire at his inauguration ceremony. It’s disheartening when even heads of state no longer seem to care about traditional men’s formal attire.

    Reply
  3. Peter

    Cardinal Dolan ought to have worn a scarlet ferraiolo, as Cardinal Egan did four years ago:

    http://www3.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/John+McCain+Edward+Egan+Obama+McCain+Attend+q73V1oUNR5fl.jpg

    Reply
  4. John Van Wyk

    In the picture, Romney’s vest extends below the front of his coat, as well. At least Ann Romney looked great! Who is the lady in the purple outfit?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Not sure about the lady but her escort is another sad case of poorly executed White Tie. (Thanks for the reminder about Romney’s waistcoat – my commentary on that was inadvertently left out during editing.)

      Reply
      1. Farragut Jones

        He’s Alfred E. Smith IV.

        Reply
      2. John Van Wyk

        Thank you, Mr. Marshall, for your reply, and to Mr. Jones as well. Sometime in the future, I hope to have an appropriate opportunity to wear white tie at least once. If that happens, I will do my utmost to incorporate all the advice on BTG and this blog pertaining to its correct wear, to get it right.

        Reply
  5. Adam Williamson

    “Judging by the Associated Press’s description of the candidates’ attire as “tuxedos and white ties”, most Americans wouldn’t even know the difference.”

    CBC, sadly, called it a tuxedo too – and then called Daniel Craig’s rather excellent Tom Ford tuxedo at the Skyfall premiere a ‘black suit’. I weep for the nation. I weep, I tell you!

    Reply
    1. jovantheun1337

      I’d hesitate to call Daniel Craig’s tuxedo “excellent”. It just looks way too tight to me.

      Reply
      1. Adam Williamson

        Well, it’s a close fit, sure. I think that’s just his preferred style, though. I don’t think anything about it is clearly incorrect, the closeness of the fit is really a personal choice. It’s not actually _undersized_, to my eye. I like a looser fit too, but I don’t think it’s a grounds for criticism really.

        Reply
  6. A. R

    Sometimes I wonder if the misinterpretations are deliberate, given that when properly executed, the evening tailcoat makes any man look like an aristocrat. Not an image Romney or Obama could afford to send. Whenever I wear wear tails (normally only on New Years Eve), it takes me over an hour to dress.

    Reply
    1. Adam Williamson

      I wondered about that too. It’d be interesting to know. Particularly in Romney’s case – it seems incredible that an east coast multi-squillionare from a pretty old family wouldn’t have a better white tie ensemble than that. Wonder if there are any older pictures of Romney in formalwear…

      Reply
  7. David V

    Detroit is not the East Coast.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    So ironic, two supposed respectable gentlemen overcame by a random guy.

    http://stjames-style.blogspot.com/2010/04/white-tie.html

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    with your permission, let me post another perfect example of how to wear the outfit:

    http://asuitablewardrobe.dynend.com/2012/05/order-well-in-advance.html

    I think, Peter, you should have a gallery, in the site, of the best examples of white tie execution.

    Reply
  10. John

    I know this is off topic for the Alfred E. Smith dinner, but since Daniel Craig was mentioned in the comments I took a look at some photos from the Skyfall premiere. Is he wearing a midnight blue jacket with black trousers? Is that a correct alternative, such as a plaid jacket?

    Reply
    1. A. R

      Yes, he was. As for the appropriateness of the substitution, Peter may disagree with me here, but I find it rather appealing, so long as you ensure that, as Craig did, the remainder of the suit is up to code.

      Reply
  11. Armand

    I agree that the tailcoat tradition in the United States looks rather bleak. In Obama’s case, I suspect that as a Marxist he instinctively hates formal attire and yearns to subvert it. In the case of other American politicians, I suspect that the lack of style comes from a desire to patronise only American-made products. Sadly, no quality full-dress shirts are made in the United States. The much praised Brooks Brothers model is, in fact, made in Italy.

    Reply
    1. John

      Marxist? Really?

      Reply
  12. Hal

    Marxist in the sense of being an out an out capitalist, obviously.

    I very much doubt political views have much to do with it, however.

    Reply
    1. TheCormac

      No indeed. But his political instincts – and Governor Romney’s – almost certainly do. Politicians do not dress for style, they dress as a prop for the persona they work a lifetime at projecting, perfecting, internalizing and selling. It would never occur to either man to take a cue from an old Astaire movie or a picture of the an opera crowd in 1910. To be President is to be populist, especially about things you regard as trivial.

      Teaching folks a lesson by your example is something that is done sparingly, and with careful planning and forethought, in U.S. politics. People say they want someone who is genuine and honest, but in fact they want someone who is reassuringly like them in thought and appearance. The sartorial standards of U.S. Presidents is a reflection of their constituents; it is always thus in democracy.

      The exceptions, those who outclass the voters they are seeking to connect with but manage to win them over anyway, are inevitably those whose dandyism has been baked into their persona as a sort of endearing foible – the vulnerability that helps make the total package so attractive. (Think Claiborne Pell, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, or even Anthony Eden.)

      It is a mistake to look to politicians to uphold sartorial standards. Not as big a mistake as looking towards show business types, but a mistake none the less.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        it’s a shame that trying to look popular to the masses end up like a hip hopper.

        Reply

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