In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Obama’s tan suit

This week marks fifth anniversary of scandal over then US president’s sartorial choice for press briefing

Barack Obama made a range of controversial decisions during his reign as US president but few triggered such widespread debate as that surrounding what was dubbed Tan-gate.

On 28 August 2014, the then president wore a light tan suit to a White House briefing, provoking a debate that inspired more than 4,000 tweets during the press conference alone, reports The Independent.

Indeed, the focus of the briefing - the fight against Islamic State in Syria - was all but forgotten amid the outcry over his outfit, created by presidential tailor Georges de Paris.

New York Representative Peter King suggested that the Democrat leader’s suit indicated he wasn’t taking national security threats seriously, while Esquire magazine simply dubbed it a “monstrosity”. 

But five years on, the row is being used as a measure of Obama’s controversies compared to those of his successor.

What’s so bad about wearing a tan suit anyway?

Nothing, according to Esquire, which insisted: “There is nothing wrong with a high-quality tan suit!”

But “this looks like something Uncle Phil would wear before throwing Jazz out of the house”, the magazine added, in a reference to hit 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Fox News presenter Lou Dobbs called the suit “un-presidential” and suggested that Obama could be sending a secret message, possibly to enemies of the US, says CNN.

Those views were echoed by New York Congressman King. Speaking to Newsmax TV the day after Obama’s press briefing, King said: “There’s no way I think any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday… for him to walk out…in a light suit, light tan suit…

“Isis is watching. If you were the head of Isis, if you were Baghdadi, if you were anyone in the Isis, would you come away from yesterday afraid of the United States? Would you be afraid that the United States was going to use all its power to crush Isis?”

In response, then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters: “The president stands squarely behind the decision that he made yesterday to wear his summer suit at yesterday’s news conference.”

And a senior White House official said: “He loves that suit.” 

What is the reaction five years on?

Many Donald Trump critics have taken to Twitter this week to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy in their silence over the current president’s failures after having been so vocal in their criticisms of Obama.

A retired US serviceman tweeted: “Five years ago today, Republicans lost their minds because Barack Obama wore a tan suit to a press conference.

“Today, they’re silent as Donald Trump separates families, makes health care less affordable, and stands up for Vladimir Putin.”

The Washington Post argues that the backlash over Obama’s clothing choices has come “to symbolise the relative dearth of scandals during the Obama administration”, with Tan-gate starting “to feel like a memory from a more innocent time, when a beige jacket was the most important issue dividing the nation”.

The newspaper also points out that “Ronald Reagan wore tan suits during his presidency. So did Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush” - yet only Obama was slated for it.

Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was arrested in Iran on spying charges a month before Tan-gate, this week tweeted: “We are indeed the most privileged - and perhaps pettiest - nation ever.”

Meanwhile, Pete Souza, chief White House photographer under Obama, mocked the backlash to the suit with a post on Instagram saying: “August 28 (even years only) is known as scandal day in the Obama administration.

“On this day in 2014, President Obama draped a TAN SUIT on the back of his chair in the Oval Office, and then WORE THE SUIT IN THE WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING ROOM.”

How do Trump’s controversies compare?

The current president’s scandals are both more numerous and generally more substantial.

“This week alone, it’s been reported President Donald Trump has discussed nuking hurricanes, waffled on Chinese trade deals, implied the first lady of the United States had gotten to know the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and wished a happy birthday to the man who runs World Wrestling Entertainment,” says CNN.

Trump has also recently proclaimed himself “the chosen one”, demanded that US companies leave China and said he wants to hold next year’s G7 meeting at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort.

His previous many memorable statements include claiming that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the Charlottesville white-nationalist rally in 2017.

And during the 2016 election campaign, tapes were released featuring Trump bragging about groping women without their consent. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he says in the recording.

“You can do anything…grab them by the pussy.”

All the same, “to say that Obama had a flawless presidency is to gloss over his penchant for drone strikes and unpopular immigration policies, to name a few”, says Esquire in an article published to mark the fifth anniversary of Tan-gate.

But the magazine adds: “As far as personal ‘scandals,’ though? The suit was pretty much it, which makes the attention it drew even more insane.”


Ghislaine Maxwell: the allegations examined
Ghislaine Maxwell
Why we’re talking about . . .

Ghislaine Maxwell: the allegations examined

Will Britain comply with new Covid rules?
A police officer wearing a mask
Today’s big question

Will Britain comply with new Covid rules?

Did vaccine inequity cause the emergence of Omicron?
A healthcare worker vaccinates a woman in Soweto, South Africa
Expert’s view

Did vaccine inequity cause the emergence of Omicron?

Is the Home Office ‘fit for purpose’?
Signage for the Home Office in Westminster
Behind the scenes

Is the Home Office ‘fit for purpose’?

Popular articles

Woman diagnosed with ‘climate change’
Humber Bay Arch Bridge in Toronto
Stranger than fiction

Woman diagnosed with ‘climate change’

Vladimir Putin and his mysterious love life
Vladimir Putin and his now ex-wife Lyudmila Putina

Vladimir Putin and his mysterious love life

Trump ‘upset his son won’t say he loves him’
Donald and Barron Trump
Tall Tales

Trump ‘upset his son won’t say he loves him’

The Week Footer Banner