Presidential Pick: Ralph Said Dressing Biden for Swearing-in

Will it be Ralph?

As the days are nervously being counted down to the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20 — with extreme safety measures both because of fears of further violence following the riot and storming of the U.S. Capitol building last week and because of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic — there is speculation in some quarters over whose suit the 46th President of the United States will wear for the swearing-in ceremony with his wife Dr. Jill Biden; Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and assorted dignitaries (other than President Trump, who has said he won’t attend, a decision welcomed by many).

And who better for a man to wear for an iconic American moment than an iconic American designer: Ralph Lauren?

According to sources, Biden has been working with the designer on a suit for the historic ceremony. The custom suit will be made in the recently renamed Rochester Tailored Clothing in Rochester, N.Y., which has been making Hickey Freeman clothing for more than a century, sources said.

Over the years both Biden and his wife have been known to wear Ralph Lauren. Fashion insiders began to buzz that the designer may be tapped for the President-elect’s inauguration suit after Biden was photographed wearing a polo sporting the brand’s signature Polo pony for a public vaccination event. “You can’t go wrong wearing Ralph Lauren,” said one men’s wear designer.

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That Rochester factory and the Hickey Freeman brand are also personal favorites of incoming Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), who has lobbied repeatedly to keep the manufacturing facility in his home state open. Four years ago, Schumer revealed Ralph Lauren would use the Hickey factory to produce Team USA’s blazer for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. And last spring, Schumer even wore a Hickey Freeman mask to complement his suit during a Senate address to promote the factory’s move to making personal protective equipment.

President-elect Joe Biden as he delivers the Class Day Address at Yale University, 2015. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File) Jessica Hill/AP

Although the details of the suit remain top secret, it is expected to be dark — most incoming U.S. presidents have gone for navy for the ceremony —  and in keeping with Biden’s past style. The president-elect is the poster child of classic American style, partial to single-breasted, notch-lapel, two-button suits in navy or, lately, a lighter shade of blue. Crisp white and baby blue dress shirts are among his favorites and his now-signature Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses help heighten the cool factor for his more casual moments. For neckwear, he sometimes wears repp ties but will probably opt for a micropattern with a white shirt and a black topcoat for the inauguration, highlighting his powerful, elegant and cool persona.

Of course, Biden’s outfit and even the location of the inauguration — historically held outside the U.S. Capitol — may change before Wednesday as further threats of violence are spreading across the country from Trump supporters. The FBI has warned states to be prepared for armed protests in all 50 state capitals on Jan. 17, and law enforcement officials are deploying National Guard troops to not only Washington, D.C., but also state capitals to be ready to ward off any additional violence.

Despite the threats, Biden’s inaugural committee has said he plans to make an outdoor appearance at the event — and take a walk in Washington, D.C. — in an attempt to bring a fractured country together. But the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue following the swearing-in will be virtual this year in light of the pandemic and the protests.

The theme of the inauguration is “America United” and it’s intended to restore the soul of America, according to a statement from the Presidential Inauguration Committee. “This inauguration marks a new chapter for the American people — one of healing, of unifying, of coming together, of an America united,” said the committee’s chief executive officer Dr. Tony Allen. “It is time to turn the page on this era of division. The inaugural activities will reflect our shared values and serve as a reminder that we are stronger together than we are apart, just as our motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ reminds us — out of many, one.”

President-elect Joe Biden waves as he arrives to Benito Juarez International airport in Mexico City, 2012. Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Biden’s wardrobe plan and neither Ralph Lauren nor the Rochester Tailored Clothing factory had any comment on the report.

But one source close to the brand said if Biden moves forward with plans to wear a Ralph Lauren suit it would “symbolically be a sartorial selection that would indicate a return to decorum and decency in the Office of the President.”

Dressing presidents has always been a sticky subject for the American men’s wear community. Although most would love to shout their associations from the rooftops, the administration generally frowns on such pronouncements. Even so, some brands have a long history, including Brooks Brothers, which has dressed 41 of the past 45 presidents, including Abraham Lincoln — who was wearing one of its coats when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre; Ulysses S. Grant; Franklin Roosevelt; John F. Kennedy; George H.W. Bush; Bill Clinton, and Trump. Barack Obama wore a Brooks Brothers coat, scarf and gloves during his inaugurations in both 2009 and 2013, although it was over a Hart Schaffner Marx suit for the initial swearing-in. Hart Schaffner Marx was based in his hometown of Chicago.

Biden has also been known to wear Brooks Brothers on occasion, frequenting the brand’s store on Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. However, the brand is not believed to be dressing him for the inauguration.

Also not dressing him for the big event next week is Martin Greenfield Clothiers, the Brooklyn, N.Y., tailor and Holocaust survivor who has been known to dress Obama and a slew of other commanders in chief including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and even Trump, although not during his term in the White House, according to Jay Greenfield, Martin Greenfield’s son.

“He dresses pretty well,” Greenfield said of Biden, adding, “He spent eight years looking at our suits on Obama.”

President-elect Joseph Biden, wearing a University of Delaware baseball cap, leaves Walter Reed Army Hospital accompanied by his son Hunter Biden in Washington, 1988. Adele Starr/AP

He especially likes the lighter shades of blue that Biden has been wearing of late that are “more in style” and give him a “more youthful appearance.” The silhouette, which is not too short, tight, or long, fits him well, he believes. “I don’t think clothing is a problem for him,” Greenfield said. His only suggestion would be that Biden consider adding a vest. “I’m a big proponent of three-piece suits. It elevates the look. There’s nothing wrong with the president being the best-dressed man in the room.”

In general, the men’s fashion industry agreed with Greenfield and gave a thumbs-up to Biden’s personal style.

“His wardrobe is timeless, traditional, sophisticated, but cool. Joe and Jill Biden are truly the American dream, and it’s inspiring to see them dress the part. I appreciate Joe’s statement accessories, like his aviator sunglasses. They’re iconic,” said Tommy Hilfiger.

“I think President-elect Biden looks great and perfectly appropriate for his age and position,” said Thom Browne.

Todd Snyder said he always looks at style as “equal parts character and personal taste.” Although many politicians tend to either overdress or underdress, Biden has managed to steer clear of both. “He’s always had a classic sensibility,” Snyder said. “His suits are the right length and the right fit. The lapels are the right width and the trousers are well-tailored. He wears a pretty trim silhouette, but not too snug. It looks modern for his age. Hats off to his tailor.”

One image that has stuck in Snyder’s mind is of Biden in a classic Western denim shirt and an Omega Speedmaster watch. “I love that image — the watch really did it for me,” he said.

“Most presidents have cool style,” Snyder said. “Obama was one of the best and Joe looks like he got some tips from him.” The designer also expects his wife Jill — “She has great style,” he said — as well as his vice president, Kamala Harris, to have some influence on his style going forward. “She’s got game,” he said of Harris, “but so does he, once he can shake off the stereotypical presidential uniform.”

Joe Biden on Instyle’s December 2017 cover. Courtesy Photo

The designer suggested that when Biden assumes the nation’s top office, he should “loosen up a bit. I know he’s older, but he’s pretty cool. He’s playing by the rules too much. It’s important to pay tribute to that office, but I’d put him in some dark denim. Mixing high and low can suit him well.”

One thing Snyder is not keen on, however, is the quarter-zip that Biden’s been wearing under his suit jackets during recent public appearances. “Quarter-zips shouldn’t be his go-to for tops,” he said.

Joseph Abboud pointed to Biden’s “Ivy League establishment look” and said he “wears clothes well and knows how to tie a tie.” He also likes the incoming president’s preppy casualwear look and his Ray-Bans.

“He presents himself as a politician, even in the Seventies when he was more hip traditional,” Abboud said. “But when you’re president, you don’t want to look like you care too much about what you’re wearing. People don’t want their politicians to be too super stylish.” Abboud pointed to former California Gov. Jerry Brown as someone who was “too flashy — too much of a fashionista.”

Instead, he gives high marks to Biden’s dark suits and “fresh and crisp shirts,” and if he does wind up wearing Ralph Lauren, he’ll do justice to the brand’s natural-shoulder clothing. “He does fit the Ralph style mode,” said Abboud.

Aliya Morehead, creative director for Hickey Freeman, also gave high marks to the incoming president. “I like his style. It’s very appropriate. He has a good fit and silhouette going on and those aviators have become very iconic for him.”

She especially likes when he explores the world outside of tailored clothing and pointed to his Western shirts, bomber jackets and Harris tweed blazers as examples of looks that are spot-on and “trans-generational.”

The tailoring realm has gotten more casual these days with unconstructed jackets that are “more relaxed and appropriate. Politicians don’t tend to do it well, but he can really own hybrid dressing,” Morehead said, adding she’d like to see Biden consider Hickey’s weightless suits in a herringbone pattern that are “not too loud,” as well as a nice knit blazer. She, too, isn’t a big fan of the quarter-zip and would prefer he explore a lightweight vest to wear under his suit jacket.

“In these times, we want to see something new that moves forward. If he pushes that more, it will send a great message to the country,” Morehead said.

President-elect Joe Biden steps out of Air Force Two, 2012. Rich Schultz/AP

Ralph Auriemma, creative director of Paul Stuart and designer of its Phineas Cole collection, characterized Biden’s style as “modern, classic and elegant,” and said he always looks the part of a well-respected politician. But that doesn’t mean he’s stodgy. “He’s doesn’t wear the typical bad uniform of a politician,” he said. “He has a sense of elegance and is comfortable in his clothing.”

Auriemma especially likes the fact that he tends to opt for spread collar shirts rather than button-downs, and he likes the navy blazer and quarter-zip mock sweater look with a casual shirt and pant that Biden has been photographed wearing while he’s walking his dogs, which are “a great accessory for him,” he said with a laugh.

Although Biden tends to stick to the classic solids and stripes that are very presidential, Auriemma said he would like to get him into a natural-shoulder soft suit that is slim and modern, accented with an elegant tie. “He’s not a sloppy guy, he’s very Paul Stuart-like and I would love to dress him,” he said.

The person who can take credit for Biden’s spread collar shirts is Leonard Simon of Wright & Simon, a second-generation custom tailor in Wilmington, Del., who has made custom shirts for Biden over the years and is partial to spread collars for the politician. And although he is not Biden’s personal tailor, he acknowledges that he knows the incoming president.

Simon said Biden is “very classic and appropriate. He’s a small man, probably not more than a 40 regular, and he’s built to look good in his clothes.” Simon also likes his “conservative” ties and those aviator sunglasses. “I don’t think he needs to change a thing,” Simon said.

Biden has also been known to shop at Murray’s Toggery Shop in Nantucket, Mass., over the years, accompanied by his wife, son, daughter-in-law and members of the Secret Service.

General manager Connor Soverino described the politician’s style “as pretty classic and timeless.” Biden’s off-duty fall uniform is typically jeans, a leather bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses, he said. “Truly, he always comes in to buy a turtleneck. That is what he is always looking for. Any color — navy, black, gray — pretty versatile standard colors, nothing crazy,” said Soverino, adding that brands aren’t a deciding factor.

As a well-known political figure, “people tend to flock around him so he’s as personable as he can be without getting caught up talking to people all day. Yet, he’s very nice, kind and refined. He’s not a big boisterous man. Very cordial.”

The President-elect isn’t the only Murray’s shopper in the family. “They would all disperse and shop,” Soverino said, although whether they picked up the retailer’s signature Nantucket Red pants isn’t known.

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