I realize it’s quite a cliche to start off a week about politics by writing on America’s most storied first family, a clan that includes some of the most revered (and written about) style icons of all time, but truth be told it’s still the Kennedy’s and the precedents they set that sit as the benchmark for how all politicians present themselves today. Watching the debates leading up to this year’s election, it was difficult for me to ignore each candidate’s respective appearance. Issues and substance are always paramount in politics (or at least they should be), but there must be a foundation to build all of this upon otherwise all we have is a series of pandering talking heads.
Politicians these days come off as flat, wearing whatever suit and tie combo has tested the highest in that week’s focus group, making for a look that is nothing more than an artifice. It’s funny to me that all these calculations are used to create candidate’s that “look like politicians,” as if somehow American leadership can be encapsulated in a tie color, and yet it’s Kennedys who endure as the epitome of what an American politician should look like, and there wasn’t a shred of inauthenticity in any of them.
The American dream remains an elusive and largely intangible idea, but I’d have to say, at least on the surface, the Kennedys, (especially of the mid-twentieth century before tragedy became a common theme in the family), represent that ideal more than just about anyone. This country was never founded to have royal families, but that’s not to say we don’t look for those characteristics in our leaders. Saying that someone has to “look like a politician” is akin to saying they were destined to be there, as if by simply looking at them we should be able to tell that they are meant to lead us. The Kennedys carried this look better than anyone else, because they had it in their blood.
From P.J. Kennedy’s first campaign in 1884 onward, the Kennedys were a family entrenched in politics. But more importantly, they were family. The Kennedys might have been some of this past centuries most beloved public figures, but they were still just a New England family carving out a place for themselves in this country. The first generation of the Kennedys had immigrated from Ireland to Massachusetts in the early 1800’s and worked their way up to become one of the Northeast United States’ most prominent families. By the time they really got into politics around the turn of the twentieth century, they all knew how to dress accordingly with who they were. The Kennedys were well-dressed, eloquent, and generally likable, values that, much like the family’s political aspirations had been passed down through the generations.
It’s this fact that makes the Kennedy name unavoidable in any discussions about well-dressed politicians, or really just well-dressed people in general. A Kennedy never dressed as he did because it would help their electability, they did so because that’s how they were raised. Style was something that was a part of their upbringing. Bespoke suits, Belgian loafers, tweed, and OCBD’s these were all things that they were raised around, therefore they never had to worry about their appearance, it was all second nature. The Kennedys never seemed to fall into the same political trap of most modern candidates that try to fool voters into believing they “look like politicians,” because they were never concerned with anything other than staying true to who they were, and handling their damn business.