Who was the most stylish US president?

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Who was the most stylish US president?” was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Monday 31st October 2016 11.50 UTC

Who is the most stylish US president? (Don’t say JFK.)

Larry, Malahide

As if I would, Larry. Sure, JFK could rock a supreme preppy look while sailing his yacht around the east coast. But he is disqualified for being too handsome and thus skewing the field. JFK could have worn a plastic bag and he would have still looked as if he was posing in a Tommy Hilfiger advert.

I’m going to disqualify Barack Obama on the same grounds, actually, although God knows no politician on the planet wears a suit as well as dear Barry. But the man is just too ridiculously good-looking and it’s unfair on all 42 presidents before him [Obama is the 44th president, but Glover Cleveland is counted twice].

So, props first to Franklin D Roosevelt, who had a very fine game in bow ties. His cousin Teddy, meanwhile, knew how to rock a waistcoat and pocketwatch, which too few men do today. Abe Lincoln, of course, was a proto hipster, with that beard and skinny build that just begged to be clothed in a tartan button-down shirt and Japanese denim. I personally have a lot of time for Grover Cleveland, as any woman should for a man named Grover. Seriously ladies, who among us can resist a larger-set man known for his “short, thick neck” and even thicker moustache? Some of us might need a cold shower after that description.

But the winner can only be Chester A Arthur, king of the mutton chops, who was known – I swear I’m not making this up – as “the dude of all the White House residents” because of his love for silk scarves, frock coats and his 80 pairs of pants. When he became vice-president, Arthur celebrated by blowing the modern-day equivalent of $15,000 (£12,300) on new clothes, and, while he refused to have a bodyguard, he insisted on a valet. Chester Arthur, dude president, this column salutes you.

I get that designers want to make us all think we need to look perfect in order to sell their clothes. But I bet in their offtime they just slob around in their tracksuits. Right?

Dave, by email

Tom Ford ... platonic ideal.
Tom Ford … platonic ideal. Photograph: Salangsang/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Wrong! I’ll be honest, Dave: not since people used to make fun of Tom Cruise’s height has someone taken such a wrong tack to mock their target. Just as there are many – oh, so many! – more interesting things to discuss in regards to Cruise than his petite stature (only last week, for example, he told ITV news that without Scientology “I wouldn’t be where I am”, which, if he means someone with the reputation for being one of the biggest weirdos in the world, I guess he’s right), so there are multiple things for which to criticise fashion designers other than how they look off duty. Because the truth is, even the most virulently anti-fashion critic cannot say that designers do not practise what they preach. There’s Karl Lagerfeld, who every morning for breakfast tucks into two protein shakes – “no sugar, of course” – and steamed apples. Mmm! When dining alone at night at home, Lagerfeld opts against a curry on the sofa in front of The X Factor, choosing instead to dine on “Meissen china in front of his favourite statue, a bronze commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1774”. Designers – they’re just like us! I once interviewed Miuccia Prada on what I was assured was her day of relaxation. She turned up wearing jewelled earrings and a necklace so enormous I – insanely – assumed they must be fake until a PR disabused me of that delusion. What better way to relax than slinging jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds around one’s person?

But no designer better exemplifies all this than Tom Ford. Tom Ford is amazing, and if I didn’t think he would physically recoil in horror at my decidedly un-Tom Ford-esque physical appearance I’d ask him to adopt me. Because Ford is a god and the rest of us are mere peasants who are lucky to live in his time. Victoria Beckham – not a woman known for letting her standards slip – told a story about how, when she was boarding a plane, Ford ticked her off for daring to think it was OK to swap her usual restrictive clothing for something more relaxed just because they were on an 11-hour flight. “He said: ‘You shouldn’t.’ I thought he was joking and was getting ready to change when he said: ‘No, you really shouldn’t.’” And before anyone complains that this is just another example of a misogynistic male designer making women suffer, Beckham added that the only concession Ford himself made for comfort was undoing one button on the waistcoat of his three-piece suit. In US Vogue this month, a journalist describes how Ford has to pour three glasses of water before he finally achieves his desire of pouring “the platonic ideal of a glass of sparkling water”, rejecting one for having a “tiny black speck” and another because the lime slice “looks too unappealing”.

Now, in anyone else, this would sound worryingly like OCD. But Ford has said repeatedly that he simply likes to live in a “hyperreal” world, although he has had to let that slide a little since having a son a few years ago who firmly rejected “tasteful, grey wooden toys” for “lurid plastic” (how Ford made nappy-changing hyperreal we can all only imagine). So there we are, Dave: designers may present a completely unrealistic view of the world, but you can’t say they don’t live that view themselves. Looks like we’ll all just have to go back to criticising them for the skinny models and high prices.

• This article was amended on 1 November 2016. It was Franklin D Roosevelt who had a fine game in bow ties and was related to Teddy, not Harry S Truman, as a previous version said.

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