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ronald reagan in tan jacket

Presidents & Tan Suits

We don’t generally discuss politics on this blog. Rather, we strive to keep our content relevant to our industry – clothing and image. Sometimes, though, these two worlds collide. Last week was atypical in American politics in that it focused on a male politician’s clothing, so we’ll explore the question, “What is it with presidents and tan suits?” on today’s blog post.

Joe Biden’s Tan Suit

president biden wears tan suitOn August 6th, 2021 (that is, last Friday at the time of this writing), President Biden wore a tan suit while giving a press conference on a potential infrastructure deal making its way through Congress, and also the pandemic in general. A three-button single-breasted model, he paired it with a green tie. As is often the case, The Internet more or less ignored the substance of what he had to say and instead got distracted by the outfit.

We know that the image you project directly affects how others perceive and treat you. It should come as no surprise that politicians – particularly those on the national stage – are conscious of their images. It’s therefore highly unlikely that the President randomly chose to wear a tan suit. This occurred only two days after his friend and former boss’ birthday, and there’s a good chance this was a nod to Obama’s own tan suit moment. With that said, other presidents and politicians have worn tan suits – more on that below.

Suitgate – The Obama Tan Suit Controversy

barack obama tan suitA lightweight as it relates to presidential controversies, former President Obama’s own Tan Suit Incident occurred on August 28th, 2014,  in the context of a press conference around the U.S. military response to ISIS. His was a two-button single-breasted model with a characteristically longer-than-we’d-typically advise jacket, which he paired with a muted grey striped tie.

To put it lightly, everyone more or less lost their mind. Conservative media and politicians expressed extreme embarrassment and consternation, while supporters of the president dismissed such criticism as silly and over-the-top, particularly when compared to presidential scandals the likes of the Iran-Contra affair or extramarital sexual acts in the Oval Office.

Suit Color, Seriousness, & Image

man in dark grey three piece suitRegardless of political leanings, there’s a reason that politicians, lawyers, and other such professionals gravitate towards dark colors for suits like navy and charcoal grey: dark suits communicate professionalism, seriousness, competence, reliability, credibility, and trustworthiness. Note that none of this says that light suits don’t look good or are never appropriate – they are just more limited in terms of when to wear them, and also to what types of events.

glenn o'brien in dark suitAs Obama’s Suitgate has the most notoriety, we’ll start there. While seasonally correct and reasonably well-tailored, wearing a tan suit to a press conference about sending more American troops abroad to fight was a misstep. Would a dark suit have been more appropriate when discussing such matters? We think so. Was it a controversy? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

knit tie with cotton khaki suitBiden’s suit was also seasonally appropriate, but he didn’t look as good as Obama did (and Biden is a pretty well-dressed president otherwise). As for its appropriateness, we feel just as we do about Obama’s tan suit. A massive bipartisan infrastructure deal making headway is a big deal in this time of great division, and Covid is always a very serious topic of discussion. A dark suit would have been a better choice here. With that said, we know that the President is close with his former boss, and this sartorial choice could have an element of camaraderie to it.

Other Who Presidents Wore Tan

ronald reagan in tan jacket
Ronald Reagan shakes hands with tennis legend Arthur Ashe. Note the very casual patch pocket tan jacket.

Biden and Obama are not the only presidents who’ve worn tan suits. Former President Reagan not only wore tan suits, but brown ones as well.

The key is, as it always is, wearing the right thing at the right time. Meeting an athlete in the summertime like Reagan? That’s an appropriate time to dress casually. When Obama wore his tan number on Easter Sunday 2014? Also totally fine.


If you don’t yet own a tan suit, there’s no time like the present to make one up. Ready to get started? Give us a call at 215-310-0219 or email info@henrydavidsen.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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