Top paper frisks Roger Stone's clothes: It was Saturday morning, February 2. At the tippity-top of American journalism, the rational animals were on the prowl again.
One day later, the New York Times would present this hard-hitting expose concerning the sources of Donald Trump's fan. (It would be featured in Monday's Spotlight feature as one of the day's most-read "stories.")
On Sunday, the Times would examine Trump's tan. On Saturday, though, the rationals were deeply concerned with the meaning of clothes.
In print editions, the report appeared on the first page of the newspaper's National section. On line, the insightful report still carries a triple headline:
ON THE RUNWAYTrump's tan would be frogmarched the following day. On this day, Vanessa Friedman was pulling the curtain back from an ongoing "costume drama."
Roger Stone’s Costume Drama
The political operative has been modeling a primer on how to dress for court.
Friedman is her famous newspaper's "fashion director and chief fashion critic." In her previous post, she was the fashion editor of the Financial Times.
She'd prepped at The Chapin School and Exeter before moving on to Princeton (class of 1989), but don't let those famous names fool you. In a profile of Friedman in the wonderfully monikored Surface Magazine, she described the wacky, Kerouackian spirit of her early post-college years:
PERROTTET (3/8/16): To hear Friedman tell it, the road to her current status as the thinking person’s fashion critic was less a conscious decision—she had no formal design or journalistic training—than a series of happy accidents. “I wasn’t into fashion when I was young,” she recalls. “I liked looking at Vogue, but fashion was never a big part of my life. I certainly never thought of it as a career.” After graduating from Princeton, she lived in her native New York, working on the bottom rungs of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. In 1996, newly married at age 28, she suggested to her husband that they move to Britain, not as a career step but as a spur-of-the-moment adventure: “One day I said, ‘Shouldn’t we go live in London?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ And so we did!”The key words there may have been the first five: "To hear Friedman tell it."
Was it true? Had the happy-go-lucky couple, at least one of whom had no journalistic training, pulled up stakes and decamped for swingin' England as a "spur-of-the-moment adventure?"
We can't exactly answer your question, but according to the New York Times' report about the couple's wedding, Friedman's husband, then 32, was "an associate in the emerging markets investment banking group at the Chase Investment Bank in London" even as vows were spoken.
Based upon that bit of reporting, the devil-may-care adventure had taken the happy-go-lucky couple to the very city where the husband seemed to be employed. According to that same wedding report, the bridegroom's father was "the owner of Twenty-First Century Investments, a financial management company in Toronto." Friedman's father was "a senior partner in Debevoise & Plimpton, the New York law firm."
Not that there was anything wrong with it! We include these biographical shards to offer a sense of the part of the world from which would emerge the lazy, silly, low-IQ musings which adorned the first page of the Times' National section on Saturday morning last.
The rational animals were at it again as Friedman's report unfolded! In fairness, Friedman may be an excellent source of worthless opinion concerning the world of high fashion. The problem begins when the fatuous creatures from whom she emerged start turning fashion, hairdos and invented quotations into the raw material of a failing nation's "political" news.
(And sexual congress, of course!)
So it was as this fatuous creature typed her sub-rational thoughts. In fairness, we can't blame Friedman alone for what happened; a team of editors stood behind her, gents and ladies alike. But as she typed, "the thinking person's fashion critic" started by sharing these thoughts:
FRIEDMAN (2/2/19): Roger J. Stone Jr. set foot on the stage—sorry, the floor of the federal court in Washington—on Friday for his scheduling hearing in a somber pinstriped ocean-dark suit, matching dark tie, pristine white shirt and muted pocket handkerchief, bringing to a temporary close the latest installment of what may become one of the most-watched spinoffs of the reality show known as “The Trump Administration.”Important! On the first page of the New York Times' National section, we learned what Roger Stone, a lifelong hustler and lunatic, had chosen to wear to federal court on two recent occasions.
It was a veritable replay of what Mr. Stone, the political operative and former Trump adviser, chose to wear for his earlier court appearance, on Tuesday (a single-breasted three-button navy suit, pure white shirt with a Windsor collar, white pocket handkerchief and marine blue knit tie).
That itself was a more formal version of the navy polo shirt with white polo pony and dark jeans Mr. Stone had worn last Friday, when he was arrested on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements. He appeared after the indictment with both arms raised in a Nixonian victory sign.
Through some under-explained species of logic, we also learned that "a single-breasted three-button navy suit, pure white shirt with a Windsor collar, white pocket handkerchief and marine blue knit tie" is just "a more formal version of the navy polo shirt with white polo pony and dark jeans" Stone had worn when he was arrested. You can puzzle that out on your own.
On Sunday. we'd have the crafting of tans. On this day, the naming of parts was restricted to matters of wardrobe. And why should any Times subscriber give a hoot about felonious foofaw like this? As she continued, the happy-go-lucky Princeton ex-pat shared some post-rational logic:
FRIEDMAN (continuing directly): Why do such costumes matter?Why should readers give a flying felafel concerning what Stone chose to wear to court? Why do his costumes matter?
Because Mr. Stone has long treated—and referred to—his wardrobe as exactly that: a key part of the theater of his life in politics.
It matters because Stone says it matters, the ranking post-journalist said. With that, she began to blather again, in a high-profile "news report:"
FRIEDMAN (continuing directly): This is, after all, a man who wore full morning dress to the 2017 inauguration; who is famous for his penchant for bespoke double-breasted suits from Savile Row or Alan Flusser (a tailor known for his master-of-the-universe clients); who once joked that he had more shoes than Imelda Marcos; and who called himself a “showman” in his 2018 book, “Stone’s Rules: How to Win at Politics, Business, and Style.” Someone who believes fully in the power of clothing as communications tool, and is comfortable admitting it. Crowing about it, even.We're sorry, but no—it really can't get dumber. Stone's clothes aren't going to "talk for him" in court unless Judge Jackson is a fool, which, by all accounts, she rather plainly isn't. And his clothes won't talk to us in the wider world unless foppish fiddlers like Friedman and her unnamed editors turn their news pages over to ruminations about where tans come from and about the meaning of Roger Stone's clothes.
And because in court, defendants generally don’t talk. Their lawyers, their demeanor and their clothes talk for them. Given that Judge Amy Berman Jackson is still considering a gag order preventing Mr. Stone (who spent his time between hearings giving news conferences and making appearances) from discussing his case publicly, it’s possible that at some point he won’t be able to speak out of court either. Which puts an even greater burden on what he wears to start emoting in his place.
As Friedman typed on, she pretended to explain why Stone was making these utterly insignificant wardrobe choices—why he "has suddenly adopted a sartorial stance of relative...understatement."
She explained the whole fandango, but was forced to close her post-journalistic "news report" with a small confession:
FRIEDMAN: [Stone] went so far as to reveal in [a] video that he chose not to wear one of his many made-to-measure double-breasted suits (he is partial to pinstripes and plaid) because they were “a little too wealthy looking and I am dirt poor at this point, having been destroyed financially by a two-year inquisition by Robert Mueller.”With that, the news report ended. Having explained the powerful logic of Stone's ideas about single-breasted suits, Friedman revealed, as she closed, that he'd flipped in his second court appearance, choosing to go double-breasted. That said, there was only one actual reason for this post-journalistic "news report:"
Then he told everyone that the three-button suit he did go for was 30 years old. And while he acknowledged the potential foppish touch of the pocket hankie, he called the one he picked “pedestrian,” perhaps to lessen the effect.
The theory has some merit...
Still, by Friday Mr. Stone seemed to have changed his mind about the single- versus double-breasted idea. Perhaps because he has also admitted that his double-breasted suits are his “armor,” and right now he needs as much of that as he can get.
The children who work for the Hamptons-based Times like to talk about wardrobe and bald spots, and best of all about sex. They simply don't care about anything else. Those topics define their horizons. This has been clear for decades, and of course it goes undiscussed.
Aristotle is widely said to have said that we humans are "the rational animal." While it isn't entirely clear what the ancient logician actually meant by whatever he actually said, no one who reads the New York Times could fail to encounter the following thought, if only in tortured dreams:
Could Aristotle's assessment, at least as widely understood, have been erroneous in some basic way? Anthropologically speaking, is it possible that we the humans aren't especially "rational" at all? Have we been "seeing ourselves from afar" in some fundamental way?
We'll be exploring such questions all year long. Anyone who reads the Times will understand why such excavations are needed. Also, why such topics will stay undiscussed everywhere else on the dial.
Tomorrow: No inanity left behind