We’re a pretty casual family, and I bet yours is, too. I like to dress up as much as the next girl, but honestly, I don’t get much call to, anymore. Who does? American life, even office life, has been trending away from neckties and pantyhose for a while. I have what my fellowship director used to call “power clothes,” but I don’t wear them very often.
When Kate was younger, I learned that in Grosse Pointe, there is one holiday event that is beloved by all, and it is not the Santa Claus parade on the day after Thanksgiving, but the various elementary school holiday choir concerts. All the kids sings in their grade-level choir, and it is an utterly charming event. (The kindergarteners came out on stage one year, and the dad next to me slapped his hands together and said, “AWRIGHT. Now we’re getting to the good stuff!”) When Kate went to her first one, I think she wore school clothes, i.e., jeans and a sweater, and she might as well have been a hobo. Nearly all the girls were wearing Christmas dresses, something we just didn’t have.
We’re not churchgoers, we don’t take studio family photos at the holidays, and without something to dress up for, why own dress-up clothes?
Which is the long way around to today’s subject, which is: Why do conservatives dress their kids so weird?
By now, those of you who are Extremely Online have probably seen the amazingly weird photo of the Acosta family on dad’s first day on the job as Secretary of Labor:
Holy shit, now there’s an image to haunt your dreams, eh?
Never have two little girls who live in Florida look so untouched by the sun, and not because their mother is always reapplying SPF 5000. The colorless lips, the hollow eyes – and that’s not even getting to the strange haircuts and identical dresses on sisters that look to be about two years apart, maybe less.
Now let’s consider the outfits worn by Jack and Josie Roberts, son and daughter of Chief Justice John Roberts, when he was introduced to the public in 2005. I can’t find a public-domain pic of the two – one could Google – so let’s call upon the descriptive prose of Robin Givhan:
There was tow-headed Jack — having freed himself from the controlling grip of his mother — enjoying a moment in the spotlight dressed in a seersucker suit with short pants and saddle shoes. His sister, Josie, was half-hidden behind her mother’s skirt. Her blond pageboy glistened. And she was wearing a yellow dress with a crisp white collar, lace-trimmed anklets and black patent-leather Mary Janes.
(Another girl with a pageboy? Josie and the Acosta girls must go to the same stylist.)
Finally, Barron Trump:
He just turned 13, so I suspect in this pic he was about…11? He’s accompanying his parents to a New Years party at Mar-a-Lago, wearing full black tie and looking, as he often does, like he lives deep inside his head. I believe, two years into his father’s presidency, I’ve seen two photos of him not in a jacket and tie. Because his father’s idea of outdoor recreation is golf, there are no pix of the two of them cavorting on the White House lawn, or dressed for skiing or the beach or any other place you’d expect a wealthy family to cavort.
I keep thinking about that NYE party at Mar-a-Lago. Can you imagine a more miserable place to be, at 11? Most kids would be having a sleepover, maybe a movie marathon in the rec room with popcorn and pizza and a sitter making surge-price money, not wearing a bow tie in a room with a bunch of adults, the youngest of which is probably 5x his age, all saying, “What a handsome boy! Do you like living in the White House?” Shudder.
Of course I loved the Obamas, and Michelle drew most of the style spotlight, but when we saw the girls, they seemed to be pretty standard American kids. At the turkey pardoning, they wore scarves and sweaters and down vests. On vacations, they dressed for the setting and the weather. And yes, for formal portraits, they wore dresses, but they looked like individuals, not like the twins in “The Shining.” And their clothing was contemporary, modern, not something out of an early-series episode of “Mad Men.”
Of course children have opinions about what they’re asked or told to wear, but when they’re young, the turnout is all about mom and dad, and mostly mom. Lace-trimmed anklets, matching dresses, identical haircuts, seersucker short-pants suits, saddle shoes — these are relics of a different time.
In a time when most children are dressed in Gap Kids and retailers of similar price-point and modernity, the parents put young master Jack in an ensemble that calls to mind John F. “John-John” Kennedy Jr.
Separate the child from the clothes, which do not acknowledge trends, popular culture or the passing of time. They are not classic; they are old-fashioned. These clothes are Old World, old money and a cut above the light-up/shoe-buying hoi polloi.
…Dressing appropriately is a somewhat selfless act. It’s not about catering to personal comfort. One can’t give in fully to private aesthetic preferences. Instead, one asks what would make other people feel respected? What would mark the occasion as noteworthy? What signifies that the moment is bigger than the individual?
But the Roberts family went too far. In announcing John Roberts as his Supreme Court nominee, the president inextricably linked the individual — and his family — to the sweep of tradition. In their attire, there was nothing too informal; there was nothing immodest. There was only the feeling that, in the desire to be appropriate and respectful of history, the children had been costumed in it.
The Roberts kids are probably in college by now. I wonder what they wear now.
A good weekend to all. Man I feel like I’ve earned it.