Powder Blue Ties Play It Politically Safe

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February 27, 2010

So why did so many of the male politicians sitting around the health care summit table wear powder blue ties?

President Obama, Vice President Biden and Rep. Boehner — the display of powder blue was bipartisan. Wolf Blitzer even wore a powder blue tie to analyze what the men in powder blue ties had just said.

We get occasional e-mails from listeners who ask, "Why do you always say what Secretary of State Clinton or Gov. Palin wore, but never the male politicians?" We're going to make up for that this week.

Was it mere coincidence that made so many male politicians, who differ so much on policy, don ties of the same color?

I doubt that any politician preparing for eight hours of television would choose a tie casually. Most of the men at that table wouldn't go into a sauna without conspicuously sticking an American flag pin in the lapel of their towel, so I assume there's a strategy here. President Bush also favored powder blue ties.

Bob Prenner, who owns the venerable Ben Silver clothing shop in Charleston, S.C., says that powder blue is politically unassailable. Red can suggest tempestuousness — or the Canadian Olympic hockey team. Navy blue can be drab. Yellow is yesterday. Purple is a little too tomorrow. Politicians save green ties for St. Patrick's Day parades.

Mr. Prenner says powder blue ties convey sincerity, and complement a whole rainbow coalition of suit colors, from gray to blue to brown.

Rick Parker, a sales associate at Paul Stuart's in Chicago, says at their shop they call this blue "cerulean. It is the color of the sky breaking out from the clouds after a nasty storm, which invokes in us a sense of hope and calm," he says.

By the way, customer confidentiality prevents both Mr. Prenner and Mr. Parker from confirming how many ties worn at that summit table came from their shops.

There's something to be said for uniforms. Franciscan monks and the Marine Corps have great ones. And when everyone from Oprah to Ozzy Osbourne puts on something pink, you know it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But I'd be depressed if male politicians string powder blue ties around their necks just because they've been told that they're politically safe, like campaigning for ethanol subsidies in Iowa.

Diversity shouldn't be defined just by a man or woman's ethnicity, but the diversity of their ideas and interests. Politicians shouldn't cringe from revealing a little personality.

By the way, Secretary Sebelius wore sage green at the health care conference. Speaker Pelosi was in dark magenta. They looked fabulous!


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Barry Kelner (Columbia73)

Barry Kelner (Columbia73) wrote:


I must take issue with your suggestion that the President's choice of a powder blue tie for the health care summit was motivated by politics -- that is, what might be pleasing to the eye of his audience. While I cannot speak for the motivations of Messrs. Biden and Boehner, who wore the same color tie, I feel confident that Mr. Obama was impelled by something much more noble than politics. Though I do not share his policy positions, I do share his undoubted love for our undergraduate Alma Mater, the Light Blue of Columbia College. Columbians are proud to wear the Light Blue on any occasion, whether it pleases an audience or not. So while others might cynically question the use of an aesthetically correct tie color, I for one will defend the President -- on this issue at least -- to the very end!


Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:52:39 PM

Barbara Scott (FinalEyes)

Barbara Scott (FinalEyes) wrote:

Human error. The missing quotation marks are totally understandable. If the speaker doesn't say "quote," it's not obvious enough for them to pick it up. But if you did that every time you quoted someone, it would be way too annoying. So things slip through. North Carolina, South Carolina...who knows?

Sunday, February 28, 2010 10:57:00 AM

scott Simon (Saturday)


scott Simon (Saturday) wrote:

There are a couple of significant mistakes in this web version of my essay that were not in the version that I uttered and broadcast. I said Charleston. My family and I visit and love Charleston, and know it is in South Carolina, not North Carolina. I'm not sure how or why that was changed in the web version. And, Rick Parker at Paul Stuart's in Chicago sent me a thoughtful and amusing email, from which I quoted. The quotation marks have been dropped in this web version. Again, I'm not sure why. But I was not trying to take credit for Mr. Parker's witty observations. He is the funniest haberdasher I know, and should be cited. I have contacted our web people, and am sure they will make the changes when they can. In the meantime, I regret these two errors, which are not small. In fact, they made me angry, and I am following up internally to try to insure that such basic errors in journalism are not committed again, in an essay about ties or anything else.

with thanks

Scott Simon

Saturday, February 27, 2010 7:29:00 PM

Penny Osborne (pennyo)

Penny Osborne (pennyo) wrote:

Maybe they all had their "colors" done. Diversity in the Senate we certainly do not have. Not race, not gender, not ethnicity, not thought, and not class. We need it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010 2:50:53 PM

Sandy Dumont (ImageArchitect)

Sandy Dumont (ImageArchitect) wrote:

Dark power suits with “country club" baby blue ties send a mixed message. Sorry, but power suits deserve appropriate ties. Baby blue ties belong in the Deep South or at country club events.
George Bush obviously had a copy of “Dress for Success" with the dark pinstripe suit, white shirt and baby blue tie on the cover. A red tie would have been a better choice, but the author, John Molloy, does not have much knowledge about color or color psychology.

Just because a president wears a particular garment doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to emulate. When you have the power, you can break all the rules. Donald Trump knows this and wore a baby pink “Palm Beach" tie once, and soon “everyone" did the same. For some, power trumps (pardon the pun) decorum.

Men, please give up the baby blue tie. Blue is trust, that’s why policemen wear navy blue. They don’t wear baby blue, however, because the darker the color the higher the authority. Baby blue is for putting babies to sleep.

Saturday, February 27, 2010 1:18:34 PM

Jennie Smith (boltsmith)

Jennie Smith (boltsmith) wrote:

Oops! Ben Silver Clothing is in Charleston, SOUTH Carolina. With the reputation of the politicians from SC, I wish my county would secede to NC.

Saturday, February 27, 2010 12:44:57 PM

Jon Spangler (goldcoastjon)

Jon Spangler (goldcoastjon) wrote:

A great commentary, as always, Scott. And not just about ties, either. If we had not only more dialogues and greater cooperation between our politicians, but greater diversity as well, we would be better off as a nation. (Of course, this greater diversity and individuality would have to be accepted and respected as well, which is perhaps too much to hope for in this era of electorally-driven (non) governance.

Were our Founding Fathers or other previous generations of politicians any better at being diverse or tolerating diversity? I rather doubt it. Maybe we have always been a nation of conformists wearing our proverbial and literal cerulean-blue ties...

Saturday, February 27, 2010 12:25:49 PM


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