When former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card recently complained about President Obama's informal dress in the Oval Office it stirred up some peculiar criticisms of the president's low-key style. Card argued that it was disrespectful to the office of the president to appear in shirt sleeves, saying:
When you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it's appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the president.
Card certainly comes off as a bit prissy with this concern and it has been the source of some humor, but some people do take the issue seriously.
Given some of the other things which have gone on in the Oval Office it seems a bit late to start worrying about propriety. Kennedy had kids playing under this desk, Nixon talked to the ghosts of dead presidents and we all know what Bill Clinton got up to in the sacred precincts. Given that context, stripping down to your dress shirt and slacks hardly seems like a great transgression.
The president is the representative of the people, and it might shock Andy Card to learn that most of the people don't wear formal dress when they're working. When the plumber comes to clear the line to my septic tank he doesn't wear a suit and tie. Multimillionaire CEOs in Silicon Valley go to work in Bermuda shorts and sandals. Tiger Woods makes more money than God and does it wearing a polo shirt. I haven't worn a tie to work on a regular basis since the 1980s and I don't even own a suit anymore.
American business is dominated by entrepreneurs and we're too busy actually working to worry about how we're dressed. If Obama wants to work in comfort or strip down because his orchids need the thermostat turned up, who can argue? Remember, we elected him to represent us, and it's his office while he's there. It's the work he's doing that matters, not how he's dressed.
But most importantly, there's a precedent for informal dress in the oval office which trumps everything else. Elvis appeared there in a rhinestone belt and an open-collared shirt with no tie, and if The King has given the informal look his stamp of approval, who are we to argue if Obama follows his lead?