A Look Back At Barack Obama's Tan Suit Controversy

Almost ten years later, former President Barack Obama's bold fashion choice is still a dominant topic of conversation. While fashion in politics is often critiqued when it comes to first ladies, the 44th president experienced quite a fashion frenzy of his own. In 2014, Obama wore an infamous light tan suit to address White House correspondents. As he discussed several important topics such as the military status of ISIS, media outlets went ablaze over his unexpected 'fit. Every detail down to the shade of the brown was argued — from taupe to khaki to cream, eventually, tan stuck.

From roundtable talks to breaking news segments, August of that year was filled with hot takes on this even hotter suit. GQ took a hard stance on the look, stating, "We can't let this terrible khaki suit fly." Meanwhile, Time stood in defense of Obama's outfit choice, urging fellow media outlets to calm down on labeling it a fashion statement. "Let's make this much clear: there is nothing wrong, wild or crazy about a tan suit."

As the U.S. faces political turmoil concerning former President Donald Trump, "Suitgate" is being looked back on as a ridiculous excuse for a scandal. Critics of Trump called upon this controversy to draw contrasts in etiquette between the two former chiefs. In an era before presidential Twitter rants, it's intriguing to look back on how something as silly as a shade of wool caused such a commotion.

A brief history of 'Suitgate'

In the first term of his history-making presidency, Obama stuck to the basics: gray, navy, and black suits tended to be his go-tos. In 2012 he even told Vanity Fair, "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." So when 44 stepped out during his second term donning a light tan suit, the media went into a craze.

Fashion-forward outlets were torn: New York Magazine called it "a sad beige suit," meanwhile, Forbes praised his fashion-forward risk, claiming that Obama is one of few that could pull it off and that "it takes a certain sense of style to be able to wear a khaki suit." However, the controversy was heavily laden with political and racial undertones: some critics considered the color choice inappropriate given the subject matter of the conference.

Outside of stylistic critique, the major backlash came from conservative news outlets, which criticized Obama's apparent lack of seriousness. "There's no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday," Republican Representative Peter King told NewsMaxTV. He even went so far as to claim the suit was a metaphor for the president's stance on terrorism. Despite this media firestorm, White House representatives stated that Obama stood behind his decision to don the look.

Hypocrisy of the scandal

In recent years, "Suitgate" has become a hot topic once again. This time, in comparison to the controversy-laden presidency of Donald Trump. In the wake of criminal indictments, immigration sanctions , and inciting an insurrection, it appears many Americans yearn for the days when an outfit faux paus was a president's greatest crime. Actor Mia Farrow wistfully tweeted, "If only we could return to a time when a tan suit is the scandal." Several Democratic politicians also called attention to the hypocrisy of right-wing media coverage between Obama and Trump.

"President Obama spent 8 yrs in the White House. No indictments/No convictions/No corruption. But 5 years ago today he wore a tan suit. Republican sycophants who regularly excuse Trump's corrupt behavior went nuts," Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries tweeted on the anniversary of this infamous press conference. In further support of Obama, many outlets recalled the history of this style in the White House. It turns out that sporting a tan suit is a summer tradition for U.S. presidents. Former President Ronald Raegan stepped out wearing light-beige attire as did President Joe Biden, who got Twitter talking when he wore his own tan suit in 2021.

This hypocrisy has also called cultural critics to highlight the obvious bias at play throughout media critique of Obama's choices, especially those as trivial as an outfit. In 2019, Trevor Noah's "The Daily Show" sarcastically labeled it the "worst scandal in presidential history," montaging news clips to highlight the ridiculousness of the whole ordeal.