Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sartorial Inelegance

In the New York Times yesterday, Jodi Kantor wrote glowinglyabout Hillary Clinton's unwrinkled attire and cool demeanor at the blazing hot Iowa State Fair earlier this week. The story has been castigated as a piece of puffery, perhaps rightly so, but Hillary isn't the first candidate whose clothes have been given a good going-over.
John Quincy Adams was perhaps the worst-dressed Presidential candidate--although Abraham Lincoln (whose socks, it was bandied about by his Democratic opponents, stank to high heaven) was a close second. But Adams, running as the Republican candidate against Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828, was seen as a highly eclectic dresser, to say the least. When he couldn't find a cravat, he would simply tie a black ribbon around his neck. He sometimes wore mismatched shoes. He often forgot handkerchief, gloves, cane, hat--all the accoutrements of the early 19th century gentleman. To make matters worse, he was short, fat, bald and had a constantly running eye, probably from conjunctivitis.
Adams won in the disputed election of 1824 and lost badly to Jackson in 1828, and the whole experience of being attacked for everything from his sartorial inelegance to the fact that his wife was "foreign" (she was English) scarred him thereafter. The worst part, he said, was that people smiled to his face: "My complaint is not that attempts were made to tear my reputation to pieces," but that such slanders, "were accompanied by professions of great respect and esteem."

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