Alternative Style Icon: Jawn Fetterman

I often spare a thought for my friend, fellow cat lover and erstwhile Elliot Richardson impersonator Derek Guy, who founded a blog called Die, Workwear! and now writes extensively about the wonkiest of workwear, himself sporting Japanese versions more authentic than the originals.

It is easy to write about gestures. About a particular pose that readers can infer stands for sincerity or that authenticity. In that manner, I could write paragraph about paragraph about John Fetterman, the 6’8” tall, imposing and intimidating lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.  He posed for his official portrait in a Dickie’s work shirt, the better to suggest he was down to earth and up for any job, no matter how unglamorous. He had his arm tattooed with the dates of each murder that occurred while he was mayor of the post-industrial town of Braddock! He spurned the official residence of the lieutenant governor to live in a converted car dealership with his wife, a former undocumented immigrant. He punctuates Twitter with the occasional pithy tweet and seems to make most of his appearances in jackets from Carhartt, another no-nonsense workwear brand. 

Writers always seek a narrative, and in a profile they often tie together a series of such evocative points – mere details --  in an attempt to suggest something deeper about a subject. Without insight and investigation, though, the result can be as empty as the inside of any connect-the-dots game.  There is more to John Fetterman, a man whose momentary Twitter handle, Jawn Fetterman, hinted he’s aware of his meta-workwear style icon status. Derek has pointed out that Fetterman paired his Dickie’s shirts with the high-fashion chops of Martin Margiela side-zip boots. In other words, his embrace of workwear involves some calculation and a broader sense of how to appear

Fetterman himself has stated that he led a “privileged” childhood in York, Pennsylvania, although his parents had not come from money. He holds a graduate degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. As such, his workwear outfits and plain speaking could simply be performative: gestures used to telegraph a pose and to pander while the gesturer upholds the status quo and furthers his own ambitions. He could be like any of the other heavily credentialed miscreants Harvard, Princeton and Stanford seem to pride themselves on producing (After Howard Hunt, Brown instead produced mostly harmless preening dandies.)…  We always risk deluding ourselves when someone seems to look a part, to answer to easy expectations. It was a slippery slope to slide from politicians wearing flag pins to literally embracing the American flag on a stage, a gesture of stunning emptiness except for those who wanted to believe. 

However, so far Fetterman has shown dedication to practice, not just performance. His degree at Harvard came after work in public service helping students earning GEDs; after Harvard he put his degree and his convictions to work in a struggling town where he continued to teach (even while serving as mayor), reclaimed and renovated houses, and opened community centers.  Some of the daring positions he took (such as officiating a same-sex wedding before it was legal, and his current stance on pot legalization in Pennsylvania) certainly have helped raise his stature. However, much else that he’s done, including expressing what seem like realistic assessments of large sections of the American electorate between the coasts, and plans to help them, seems sincere, intelligent and public-spirited. For this moment, at the very least, let him be the Alternative Style Icon we need, if not the one that we deserve: expressively gigantic, self-aware, able to rip an interlocutor to shreds with his gritty wit or his bare hands, a new national presence providing some blessed change…

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