Top Hat & Tails? Why Ike Wouldn't Follow Suit
In the final days of 1952, Penn State President Milton Eisenhower was worried. His brother Dwight was about to be inaugurated president of the United States -- and, in Milton's opinion, about to make a terrible "mistake":
Ike wanted to ditch the tails-and-top hat look at his swearing-in.
Americans "like what few formal traditions they have," Milton warned in a Dec. 27 letter. "The breaking of a tradition is news. . . . It places you in the position of attaching too much importance to a small thing."
The prez-elect wrote back -- in an exchange recently dug up by the staff at Johns Hopkins University, where Milton later served as president, and published on their inauguration blog.
"I do not see how you can label a cutaway and a silk hat as 'traditional.'" wrote Ike. "If that is the case, why should we not be wearing three-corner hats and knee britches?" Formality was fine, he added, but "to make the modern automobile and the silk hat meet in any kind of a compromise that takes convenience and comfort into consideration, is a complete impossibility."
Nice, huh? Hard to imagine conveying all that in the BlackBerry era. History will reflect that Eisenhower made headlines by going for a business suit and homburg hat rather than a top hat and morning coat at his swearing-in. JFK went back to the top hat -- but removed it for his swearing-in, and Ronald Reagan was the last to do the morning coat thing. Pretty much everyone else just wore a good suit -- as Barack Obama is expected to do Tuesday.
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