Pa. Lt. Gov. Mike Stack likes to dress. In a sea of peers wearing everyday gray or black suits with red or blue ties, he’s the guy who’s not afraid of lavender accents.
It’s not that his suits are outlandish. He’s a politician, after all. But he makes sure that his suits are sharply tailored, that he goes for that pop of color, that he’s mindful of the trends happening in men’s fashion just this second. If he were not the lieutenant governor, but rather a Center City lawyer, banker, or entrepreneur, he wouldn’t be an outlier. But in Harrisburg, most elected officials don’t go for panache. So, when Mike Stack walks in, in a thick pinstripe suit with a Carolina blue tie, his clothing really says it all.
You think this is an accident? All that right there? Premeditated, patnah.
“I worked on a lot of different policy issues,” he told Billy Penn in his Philadelphia office at the Bellevue, “and I started finding out wherever I went people said, ‘Hey, you’re on the Best Dressed list in the Senate,’ or ‘Hey, aren’t you on the Best Dressed list in the Senate?’ And I said, ‘But what about my tax reduction plan? What about my plan for health insurance availability?’” PoliticsPA pointed to Stack as a dapper dresser with a nice shoe game back in ’02, and constituents haven’t forgotten. “I always felt like if fashion helps me get noticed so I can work on other things, that’s important,” he explained.
People recognizing him as one of the best dressed pushed him “to take it to different level,” he said. Previously, he was a state senator from Somerton who was into, as many Northeast natives are, hitting
Franklin Philadelphia Mills for a smooth outfit at a fair price. But if folks were going to know him for his apparel, he had to step up his game.
Pennsylvania politicians, or male politicians anywhere to be frank, are generally not known for being fashionable. With female electeds, there is an endless (sexist!) discourse about colors, sleeve cuts, necklines, skirt lengths, pant preference and what those things signify, but in Pennsylvania’s overwhelmingly male government, the men are expected to look professional, in way that often is tame and forgettable.
Robert Jubelirer, a retired lawmaker who served as both president pro tempore in the Senate and lieutenant governor, was known in his day for his style. He co-founded Harrisburg’s Seersucker Caucus, (yeah, that exists!) and started Seersucker Day, a tradition that lives on in his absence. He was careful not to shade any of his past colleagues for their manner of dress, but acknowledged: “A lot of people didn’t take a position on fashion.”
Johanna Blakely, an expert on politics, fashion and media out of the University of Southern California, told Esquire that politicians typically wear “conservative, not too expensive suit[s] in the color palette that everybody else is wearing, which is odd because politicians are trying to stick out and grab attention.”
She continued, “When they go on the campaign trail, you can see these attempts to fit into whatever little country fair they’re serving pancakes at—it’s an attempt to reflect and be representational [of the voters].” Politicians have to look respectable. But the logic goes that they shouldn’t shoot too far above what their constituency could aspire to match.
“It’s a small-c conservative culture to begin with,” Patriot-News Opinion Editor John L. Micek, known on occasion to sport a bow tie, explained. “There tends not to be a lot of creativity. You see a lot of Ann Taylor and Jos. A. Bank in the hallways.”
Yeah. Among the names of Pennsylvania male lawmakers and officials known for dressing to the nines are Sens. Jake Corman and Vincent Hughes, and Reps. Anthony DeLuca and Brian Sims. No tea, no shade, but beyond them the list gets short, fast.
Micek said he believes that some of the younger members of the legislature are “more image-conscious and social media-conscious,” and are thus paying more attention looking fresh, but it hasn’t caught on with everybody yet.
“The standard for people in government in fashion? The bar is a low bar,” said Stack. “To dress well, it’s easy, comparatively.”
Of pols who decide to step outside the box sartorially, Micek said, “I’m sure they get a merciless amount of hazing from their colleagues. [But] I think people rebel in slow ways. I don’t think it damages their credibility.”
Stack regularly shops at Les Richards at Liberty Place, which sells Burberry, Ted Baker and Ermenegildo Zegna, to name a few, but 40 percent of the business is custom suits. For a time, Stack didn’t broadcast this; the prices on the Les Richards are dear. (Some LR suits cost four-figures. But with a sale like this one, shoppers can score a suit for $399.) The store steers men toward not brown, but olive. Not a lighter gray hankie with a darker gray suit, but perhaps a pink one. Les Richards himself told us that a contingent among his customers are “metrosexuals.” He paused, “I’m not sure people really know what that means.”
The store, in fact, has a master tailor, Lucinda Machado, in-house.
“If I try something on, he asks Lucy to come out right away, and says ‘What do you think, Lucy?’” Stack said. “And she says ‘magnificent’ and starts getting the tape thing out and the chalk. I say, ‘I wasn’t going to buy this.’
“I have no choice.”
Machado is one of those rare, indispensable creatures who openly admits to loving a task the more tedious and complex it gets. She’s fastidious. But Stack doesn’t take much work. One of his arms is a touch shorter than the other, so she alters accordingly. She does a tighter taper, so the fit looks, she said in her native Portuguese, “more slimming, more refined.” Voilá. The lieutenant governor is ready.
Stack has a suit that he calls “The Cobalt.” It’s pushing that line. It’s blue, but it’s not navy. “The Cobalt is when I’m really announcing my presence,” he said. “When I bought the suit, I thought, ‘Is this a little too much?’ And the man who sold it to me said, ‘You’re going to crush.’” He wore it for his swearing-in. He wore it to meet Pope Francis.
Stack is not without critics. “I did have someone rip up my fashion selection on something I wore that had a reddish hankie, a reddish tie,” he remembered. “They said that I looked like I was from Goodfellas or something like that.”
It’s not easy on anyone who decides to break the uniform of simple suits. But it certainly isn’t always easy on a guy from Philly in state politics, where being from the biggest city can often prove a disadvantage for reaching Pennsylvanians in other parts of the commonwealth.
He’s been advised to dress in a way that’s more reserved.
“[People] said, as a Philly guy, you should probably take it down. You’re statewide now,” he said. “You don’t want these people nervous about you.
“So I listened and I gave it some thought. And I thought: I have to be me. And I have to project my personality. I’m not ashamed of Philadelphia; I’m proud of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is one of the coolest cities in America. We should be proud of that. Everywhere I go, I try to project that.”
In politics, things flow easier if you can be yourself, he measures. He said “the people of Pennsylvania” keep him in check when he wears something not up-to-snuff. But nevertheless, the feedback from folks in mostly positive.
Purple is not just a color. He explained that it represents awareness for domestic abuse and Alzheimer’s. “The last year in Pennsylvania is a purple year,” he said.
“It’s a bold color. And we should try to be bold,” he explained. “I think you see, maybe not necessarily the right way, how being bold and sometimes brash has led people to be successful in politics. But I think we should be bold in our ideas, and [public officials] should be bold in our dress.”
Last year, the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers met in Quebec. Governor Tom Wolf sent Stack. He was hanging with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, among others, when they peeped that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was wearing jeans that stopped around his lower shins and New Balances. What are those?!
“We savaged Governor Scott Walker for his bad fashion choices,” Stack remembered. “We started with sneakers and worked our way up.
“It reinforces to me: Don’t slip!”