(Updated July 28, 2014, with video from a Defense News Minute)
In a city where the powerful often wear boring, dark-color suits, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bucks that trend. The Nebraskan can often be found wearing bright-colored socks, slick power ties and casual kicks that have made the man in charge of the world’s most powerful military the best dressed in President Obama’s cabinet.
He doesn’t always wear a suit to formal events – slacks and a sport coat will suffice – and he’s yet to be spotted wearing god-awful, washed-out mom jeans. (See photo to the right). He prefers khakis and corduroy pants to denim, slip-on moccasins to sneakers and solids to stripes.
Hagel’s suits are often lighter colors and trimmer than those of oversized, bunched ones worn by his counterparts. He wears properly fitted shirts, unlike baggy, wrinkled messes you see walking around the hallways of the Pentagon.
Hagel showed off vibrant style while traveling to military bases in Florida and Alabama last week. The dress code for civilians, per the SecDef’s official itinerary, was listed as casual. While jeans would have been acceptable for a day that included touring aircraft hangars and flying on Army Blackhawk helicopters, Hagel wouldn’t be caught dead in denim.
Instead, he wore a pair of khaki-colored slacks and a vibrant blue-and-yellow plaid dress shirt. A tweet referencing his shirt prompted this exchange following a brief press conference at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Right as the Q&A ended, Hagel handlers prepared to whisk him to his waiting motorcade. As he turned away, I offered my compliments on his shirt choice:
“I dig your shirt.”
Hagel pauses, pivots left, grabs my right arm and says: “It takes a man with confidence to wear a shirt like this.”
He then let go, pivoted to his right and tugged up his pants leg revealing a pair of orange striped socks, eliciting laughs from the traveling press corps and bizarre stares from the local media.
The secretary’s socks have become a bit of an obsession for the press corps.
The official DoD photographers regularly capture pictures of Hagel’s socks, posting artful shots of the secretary’s feet on his official FLICKR account.
On a trip to China in May, DoD photographer Erin Kirk-Cuomo began including the hashtag “#SecDefSocks” in tweets of pictures of Hagel’s colorful wardrobe.
On a May 2013 flight to Singapore, discussion or the socks made it into an official DoD transcript.
I wore my best red socks for Joe Morton [the Omaha World Herald reporter who has been writing stories about Hagel since his Senate days].
But I know that it might be interpreted, Joe, as a little Texas orange. But I did the best I could. Damn dog ate my real red socks, so don’t tell Ms. Hagel I said that as she’s very fond of that dog.
Hagel asks reporters about their socks. Word has it he is fond of some fuzzy socks worn by the Associated Press’ Lolita Baldor. Former Pentagon Press Secretary George Little once told me I was wearing “Chuck Hagel socks” when I passed him in the hallway sporting a bright red pair.
“He is the secretary of defense, however, and should wear a proper fitted suit — one that is not too boxy and one that doesn’t make him look too disheveled,” she said. “He does have a good eye for texture and color, though sometimes it’s execution that needs a little tweaking.”
Like this ….
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