Nothing says “winning” like walking into the White House looking like an overzealous Uncle Sam – or does it? Since last week the Boston Red Sox have threatened, via Twitter, to rock star-spangled blazers, gifts to the team from player Jonny Gomes, to their meet and greet with President Barack Obama today. Gomes, according to a teammate’s Twitter account, is indeed rocking the jacket, created by LoudMouth.com. And there’s apparently one to be gifted to President Obama, too.
But is this sort of attire when visiting the president a protocol no-no? Whispers asked some experts to weigh in.
“During the Bush Administration no one came in such a crazy fun jacket,” recalled Laurie Firestone, a White House social secretary for President George W. Bush. She said she never heard of there being an official White House dress code and she did see some crazy outfits in her day. “I think Bush would have liked it but then he has a great sense of humor,” Firestone told Whispers via email. “Not sure about Obama.”
William Seale, a historian and the author of “The President’s House: A History,” said that the protocol of what to wear to the White House has changed over the years.
Two early over-the-top fashion moments both came in the 1840s. The Western pioneer Seth Eastman came decked in furs to meet the president. And in 1848, General Edward Fitzgerald Beale arrived at the White House still disguised as a Mexican bringing proof of California’s soon-to-come gold rush to President James Polk.
President Theodore Roosevelt, during his White House tenure in the early 1900s, encouraged official visitors to wear their official uniforms. For instance, guests coming from the Mediterranean would “have that jewelry and capes and all very elaborate costumes that they wore,” Seale said.
Official attired loosened up after World War I. “I think you’d refer to it more as a tradition today to be in your Sunday best,” Seale explained. “You don't go in there in sandals and jeans, unless there’s a reason.” He gave the example of Country Western singers, more casually dressed, coming to see then-President Jimmy Carter. The White House Historical Association provided Whispers with the iconic photo of the Reagans with Michael Jackson, as another standout example of when somebody got away with not wearing a nice suit.
“But I just think it’s a tradition now that you don’t appear before the president at the White House in corny clothes,” Seale said. “I don’t think anyone would be ordered away, but it would be looked down upon by everyone who’s there.”
That was the case in 2005, when the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team showed up to the White House wearing (nice) flip-flops to meet with President Bush. News reports said the casual footwear caused a "kerfuffle."
So what about the Sox? Is it a losing play for the World Series Champs to dress in such a way?
“No,” Seale said. “It’s not one person who’s going in his underwear or something; it’s everybody getting in on the game, in on the fun,” he said.
So far, only Gomes has been spotted wearing the jacket. But he’s bringing one for Obama, making it – at the least – a fashionable party of two.