George P. Kent is a senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy. On Wednesday he also became a fast fashion icon.
Delivering his opening remarks and later answering questions on the first day of public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry, Kent’s eloquence was not the only notable thing about him.
All eyes watching the House Intelligence Committee hearing went to his neck and the fabulous bowtie he was wearing. At the time of writing, the sharpness of the look matched the precision of his words under concentrated questioning.
It’s the same bowtie that Kent wears on his State Department page, and has a lovely blue pattern with a series of blue and orange patterns on top. It is apparently self-tied, sprouting majestically big and proud from his neck. It is ready for battle. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), in his usual angry-man drag of shirt and tie, looked like a wilting loser in comparison.
Bowties are symbols of many things. To some, they signal eccentricity, to others an intellectual, and to others a clown. The latter is perhaps the most enduring because so many bowties worn in sartorial jest can start spinning around on the job.
But whoever is wearing a bowtie, and however they are wearing it, one can generally surmise they have independent minds, for the simple reason that a bowtie is not a tie. It is not the conventional choice of male neckwear. It is neckwear that signals something of a renegade mind. Women in bow ties—following in the tradition of Marlene Dietrich—have even more dash.
Kent is wearing his bowtie perfectly, with a matching pocket square. He is also wearing a muted-grey suit and light blue shirt; the perfect combination of restrained surrounding clothing to give a bowtie its moment to shine. Too many clashing or emphatic other articles of clothing and a bowtie can be lost.
This is not the first time Kent has worn a bowtie. He was last seen wearing one at his closed-door testimony before House committees on Capitol Hill on Oct. 15. On that day, the suit was dark grey, the shirt was white, and the bowtie was a lovely swirling pattern—not quite paisley but almost—on a red wine-colored base color. And again: matching pocket square. The look is both career diplomat and convivial raconteur; someone as well-traveled as he is in charge of his brief.
It should be noted that Kent does not only wear bow ties; in other images you will find him in conventional ties, but even here there’s a neat kick. Pictured in May with then Ukraine’s president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky, Kent wore a golden tie partnered with the pocket square he is wearing today, with a slim-fit grey suit and waistcoat. Kent’s looks are a perfect marriage of modern and retro.
Kent’s bowtie adds to a delicious bit of sartorial drama to the impeachment hearings. They set the wearer apart; if not a fashionable note of superiority, they absolutely telegraph someone who doesn’t operate on the same terms as the people around him. He will do his own thing, say his own thing, tell his truth, be absolutely himself.
For comedians they are natural accessories: Stan Laurel twirled his in his slapstick with Oliver Hardy. Charlie Chaplin knew the bowtie’s innate humor potential too, and so did Pee-wee Herman in his signature red tie.
But bowties, as today’s proceeding shows, are not always for fun. Charles Osgood looked both playful and commanding in his presenting CBS Sunday Morning, Gore Vidal wore his for literary combat. Alfred Kinsey revolutionized our view of human sexuality wearing his, and Winston Churchill wore his leading his country to war.
On Wednesday, Kent bought a new briskness to the wearing of a bowtie. Steve Castor, the beleaguered GOP Oversight Committee chief counsel—drab and blundering in his black suit and red conventional tie, grimacing as if he had a terrible headache—threw what he could at Kent.
But the diplomat and his magnificent neckwear—at the time of writing—answered clearly, and showed us that we belittle the bowtie as the clothing of effete academics and prank-jokers at our peril. Bowties can be as serious, and seriously cool, as their wearers. Whatever else is achieved by the impeachment hearings, George Kent has performed a vital, and unexpected, fashion service.