Washington's great fashion show

Mr James Comey was the consummate government man in his black suit and pristine white shirt with its barrel cuffs and point collar.
Mr James Comey was the consummate government man in his black suit and pristine white shirt with its barrel cuffs and point collar.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Senators and journalists alike were freshly groomed and dressed up for the former FBI director's hearing

WASHINGTON • This was serious business, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey testifying before Congress. But it was also a grand opportunity for the kind of televised stagecraft that the Washington establishment secretly adores.

Boy oh boy, did the folks on Capitol Hill look spit-shined and polished for the question-and- maybe-answer session with Mr Comey as it was carried live on every major network.

The public servants and the people who report or pontificate on them were like students dressed up for the first day of school. Their ensembles might not have been new, but they had an extra special gleam.

For its pre-game blah-blah-blah, CNN hauled directors' chairs out onto the Capitol lawn.

Ignoring the grassy backdrop and clear morning light, the network's crack make-up team seemed to have deployed the best super-luxurious false eyelashes and volumising mascara, making the cable news giant's stars - Gloria Borger, Dana Bash and Nia-Malika Henderson - look a bit like they should be sipping martinis by candlelight while delivering their political insights.

At one point during the anticipatory-fanfare, anchor Anderson Cooper, along with analysts Carl Bernstein and Richard Ben-Veniste - assembled on-screen in checkerboard formation - resembled multigenerational clones: all shiny white hair, dark suits and blue ties.

Mr Ben-Veniste's suit jacket was especially inky, exuding not just sobriety, but also mournfulness.

Who could blame him, really? He was a special prosecutor during Watergate. He sat on the 9/11 Commission. And now this: a slow dance towards... something.

As senators strolled into the hearing room, they looked so freshly groomed, you could practically smell the shower gel.

The men's shirt collars were starched to such an extreme, they could draw blood if a fella turned his head too quickly.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine was dressed in taupe, her zip-front jacket with its precise French seams accessorised with a fancy strand of black and white pearls.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was wearing his gravitas- signalling reading glasses with an American flag pin perched on his lapel, just above a white pocket square that poked out just a smidge too much.

Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, in his pinstriped navy suit, pale blue shirt and yellow-and-blue power tie, tended to keep his arms crossed in front of him as he questioned Mr Comey, showing off a set of distractingly well-groomed nails. So even and shiny.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas regularly aims for a hipster look (no, not successfully). He also believes in facial hair: full beard or groomed stubble. But he was clean-shaven for the occasion of grilling Mr Comey - the better for viewers to see his jaw clench in the nation's service.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was suited up as well, but he was swathed in so many clashing shades of blue - tie, shirt, suit - that he resembled a Portlandia caricature.

Amid all these serious shades of wool and gabardine, there was Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, wearing a beige necklace of gumball-size beads and a blue-and-white seersucker jacket.

It's Seersucker Thursday - that blighted Thursday in June when the members of the Senate throw a bone to the manufacturers of seersucker by dressing up like they're going to a church social in 1955.

It isn't that seersucker can't be stylish - in the right hands, it can be, but those hands are not in the Senate.

But there was no one at the Comey hearing who was more pristinely attired than Mr Comey himself - all 2m of him.

He strode into the hearing room and unbuttoned his jacket as he took a seat at the witness table, staring unflinchingly into a bank of cameras, the sound of their clicking shutters rising to a near thunderous roar. (For the record, the photographers looked like hell.)

Mr Comey was the consummate G-Man (FBI agent) in his black suit and pristine white shirt with its barrel cuffs and point collar. His perfectly straight burgundy tie with its discrete geometric pattern and rigorous dimple was serious, polished... and recalled the colour of a scabbed-over wound.

Once settled into his seat and deep into the questioning, he gestured - but never emphatically.

His clothes remained unruffled. The light bounced off his tidy crew cut. There was no American flag pin on his lapel. No club or career insignia pin. Nothing to declare his patriotism or professionalism, other than the man himself.

Those folks seated in the row of chairs directly behind him, the on-camera chorus, were almost uniformly in dark suits. A sober line of (mostly) men in black.

Everyone was there for the Comey show.

And he was dressed with the understated confidence of a star.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Washington's great fashion show'. Print Edition | Subscribe