It won’t be appropriate every day. And, with Obama’s impeccable grasp of symbolism, I’m sure it won’t be done every day. But the pictures of Obama in shirtsleeves and of him with key aides – some with jackets, some jacket-free – on day one and day two in the Oval Office is incredibly reassuring.
It’s not about a relaxed style. It’s not about a more casual tone. It’s not about comfort. And it’s not, as some have said, about defiling the White House.
It’s about message. It’s about appropriate. And it’s a symbol of common sense and hard work in the Oval Office.
The message the shirtsleeves sends is: we are getting down to work. We’re not afraid of work. We have class and we know the rules (we’re in shirtsleeves, after all, not T-shirts), but we’re willing to do the heavy lifting when it’s called for. And to do the heavy lifting, you need to take off the jacket.
That said, I liked the fact that George Bush required jackets and professional attire in his meetings. It was heartening in a compulsively casual business climate where people no longer know the symbolic messages that dress sends … whether we know it or not.
But there was something compulsively formal about George Bush’s dictum. A White House Oval Office where people, even with shirts and ties – are not allowed to take off their jackets smacks of a group of the elite not willing to get their hands dirty.
Obama is a refreshing change.
Also refreshing is that there’s nothing rigid about it. In some pictures he wears a jacket; in some he doesn’t. In other words, when the occasion calls for it, we’re formal. When we’re tackling tough issues, we might remove our jackets. And sometimes – apparently at Camp David – we’re even business casual.