The authoritative hand of fashion has become so dulled, and the anything-goes attitude of personal style so pervasive, that nearly every article of clothing can survive attempted annihilation. The black turtleneck can thrive in spite of Elizabeth Holmes’s endorsement; Lanvin flats can rise above “the Soho Grifter” Anna Sorokin’s dubious affection; Savile Row tailoring will press on despite Roger Stone’s best efforts; and the Barbour jacket has risen above Steve Bannon’s attempted putrefaction.
But the skinny suit cannot survive Jared Kushner.
Kushner, of course, has found himself a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, as the New York Times reported last week. As a part of his new post, Kushner has perched his private sector Kushnerettes—career disruptors who are also friends—throughout the government, leaving FEMA veterans and other federal officials exasperated. These are founders of medical startups, like Adam Boehler (who lived with Kushner one summer in college) and Nat Turner (who also used to breed snakes in his childhood bedroom—the kind of fun fact you plunk on your resume to establish rapport during big job interviews); private equity funders, like Dave Caluori, partner at Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe; and “a suite of McKinsey consultants,” reported Politico last week. One senior official described the group to the Times as a “frat party” that has invaded the federal government. “I don’t know how our government operates anymore,” a Republican close to the administration told Politico, adding that the authority granted to these private sector appointees had left them with their “eyebrow raised unbelievably high.”
Kushner has proudly named them his “impact team,” per the Times. The FEMA veterans working on the coronavirus plan, in response to Kushner and his team’s specific look, have called them “the Slim Suit Crowd.”
In a White House where he is above reproach but constantly demanding it, Kushner has made the skinny suit both his security blanket and his uniform of subversion. When Trump first took office, WWD observed that Kushner, with his “fashion-informed, Millennial uniform of sorts” was more likely to have an influence on fashion than Trump. (Indeed: he wears Common Projects, and they end up on sale.)
The suit is now a reminder of his dual role as a maverick scion and hipster titan of industry. (It’s why he looked so silly on that trip to Iraq in 2017, with his bulletproof vest strapped over his prep school class president chinos and blazer.) He gets things that his colleagues and critics, in their baggy, old-guard suits, simply don’t understand—he’s the hip young thing in the room. The skinny suit, after all, is the standard fit for the twenty- and thirty-something class of management consultants, bankers, real estate brokers, and poor little rich sons; for those who use a combination of youth and modeling software to flatten the humanity out of everything; of those types who, more than a decade after graduation, still think the name of their alma mater belongs at the top of their resume. They are the linguistic artisans of garbage language—putting everything into “buckets”; looking at “takeaways”; asking about “value-add.” Peek at the Instagram account @midtownuniform, which lovingly mocks those who wear the tight pants and vest like a merit badge, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The great tragedy of Kushner’s allegiance to the skinny suit is that it was once the emblem of progressive fashion, the first instance in this century of an idea trickling down from the snootiest European runways to transform the unstylish masses into visually informed cognoscenti. Appearing in the late ’90s at Hedi Slimane’s Dior, the slim suit stood for insider cool—Karl Lagerfeld guzzled Diet Cokes to fit into his—and then for metrosexuality, or the look of the meticulous big spender, a novelty capitalist subculture. But so potent was this vision of masculine modernity that every menswear designer quickly made their suits slim, and then every mall brand joined in, too making it the prototype from which young men dared not veer.
With the introduction in 2008 of J. Crew’s Ludlow Suit, a bargain at under $1,000 (and now a mere $248), the skinny suit came to represent an earnest and populist vision of fashion, and a thumb in the eye of dad’s baggy power suit. (It was the standard fit on the pages of this magazine for more than a decade.) By 2012, it was the reason men were shopping again, with the New York Times claiming that menswear sales were rising at double-digit rates as young guys went hunting for the new slim silhouette. “It’s our version of the iPhone,” J. Crew’s then-chief executive and chairman Mickey Drexler told the Times—and it became just as ubiquitous, as much the standard of men’s suiting as the iPhone was the standard for phone design and function.
Now it has grown curdled. With each appearance, Kushner’s suits seem to shrink closer and closer to his body, as if they themselves are retreating in panic. On the cover of Time magazine in January, the suit looked like his father-in-law’s tan: sprayed on. Every other man in the administration—including the bottle-blonde head honcho himself—remains in more traditional, loose-fitting silhouettes. (Remember Sean Spicer’s oversized suit debacle, when the big-bad jacket appeared to be breathing down his neck?) The gigundo fit is already a part of the lingua franca of power: I wear the big suit, so I am in charge. Kushner has made his diversion from the norm into his line of defense, and his visual resume: I’m young and my suit is vaguely European, so I don’t think like the rest of you. Get this outsider’s outsider in every room—his very lack of experience makes him the most well-equipped guy anywhere he goes.
That Kushner’s imported associates wear the skinny suit has truly written the last chapter of its entry in the history books. It is the signature look of the guy—and his army—who thinks he can fix anything because he read the right manual and ran the right models.
It is perhaps the strangle-hold tightness of the pants that makes the look so nefarious. Pants have never meant more and stood for so much, and the optimists among us, like Harry Styles and Timotheé Chalamet, are wearing theirs huge, high, butt-hugging, in leather, skater-baggy, in bell-bottom and bootcut silhouettes—in other words, every single way under the sun except for skinny. Big pants now feel like an act of optimism, a joyful expression that putting on clothes can be fun. In contrast, the skinny suit—at least in this iteration—has become the uniform of narcissism, nepotism, and self-delusion. The only thing more off-putting than seeing Kushner’s boa constrictor silhouette is to visualize him in a normal suit, or the kind of loose and free fit that is now the cutting edge in tailored clothes. It would eat him alive.
Originally Appeared on GQ