By his own admission, Pennsylvania’s newly elected Senator John Feltman doesn’t look like “a typical politician.”
Fetterman is just over 6-foot-8 with a goatee, tattoos on his forearms, and a strong workwear tendencies (for his official portrait, he opts for a crumpled gray Dickies camp shirt sitting in front of the American flag) , he was described as the state’s first “tools senator” and a “handsome guy in shorts.”
Yet despite this—or perhaps because of it—he broke Republican control of the white working-class vote in Pennsylvania, all while wearing a black Carhartt hoodie, a “non-fancy dress, well-crafted and up to the mark.” What matters is that it will last — all politicians like Feltman might want to convey through what he wears to convey these qualities”, professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, Buttoning Up: Clothing, Submission, and White Collar Manliness said author Erynn Masi de Casanova. “In short, this hoodie is an easy way to decipher what he seems to stand for”.
Feltman’s unremodeled wardrobe – which also includes a lime green scarf, Indigo Levis 501s, oversized surf shorts, and, oddly enough, a pair of Maison Margiela side-zip boots costing hundreds of dollars—it’s been a talking point since the former mayor entered American politics.
He was hailed as a style icon by GQ in 2020 while also serving as lieutenant governor, and he responded on Twitter that he had a “negative sense of fashion.” Asking for further comment, he wrote a blog on Medium in which he said: “I don’t look like a typical politician or a typical person” — alluding to his height — — then explains why he has the tattoo: On his left arm is 15104, the zip code of Braddock, the mining town where he was mayor, and on the right are the dates of five murders in the town since his election .
But it’s the hoodie that dominates the narrative. “It’s strange that we continue to give so much meaning to items that are in almost everyone’s wardrobe,” Casanova said. Still, context is everything. Most of the British media mocked Rishi Sunak for wearing a grey Everlane hoodie (about the same price as Carhartt, but more gym-friendly) at his desk, and in 2019, Quebec Solidarity politician Catherine Dorian Dorion was in the Legislative Chamber wearing an orange hoodie and she had to leave the room. But since none of the aforementioned people wore their clothes to vote, campaign, or even meet with President Biden, Feltman “brought himself a certain amount of visibility,” Casanova said.
The fact that it came from Carhartt only adds to its popularity. Originally based in Detroit, Carhartt began making workwear for workers in labor-intensive industries during the Great Depression, often triple-stitched for durability. Today, the brand’s core customers are divided between hipsters and these blue-collar workers. Feltman may have a master’s degree at Harvard, but he’s from a mining town; no matter how real the choice is when wearing a Carhartt hoodie — “I think it’s really what he’s wearing, not clothing”, Casanova said — he is recognized by many who voted for him and is taking advantage of that. On the eve of the midterm elections, his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, described Feltman as a “basement bum.” When Feltman retaliated by mocking Oz’s “Gucci loafers” for being out of touch, the post went viral.
A hoodie like Feltman’s sells for 10 cents in the Western world, but the media climate still dictates that it’s unusual for a politician to wear a hoodie. American political commentator Luke O’Neil said, “Pennsylvania is a unique place of its own, with a very long history of labor, which is more important than clothing.” Feltman was not unaware that he was putting the The dignity of blue-collar overalls conferred political action, but he was also, as O’Neal put it, “just a man who was well-dressed.”
Hoodies are the last bastion of the gradual casualization of political attire, which began when JFK eschewed hats during his 1961 inaugural address, and was last deployed when Barack Obama rolled up his sleeves to meet diners at a campaign event while sitting together. In his Medium post, Feltman alluded to his lack of “rolling up the sleeves of political metaphors – I only wear short-sleeved work shirts because hard work is the only way to rebuild our communities.”
If Feltman improves, it remains to be seen what happens to his wardrobe. In the House of Representatives, men are required to wear a coat and tie at all times when Congress is in session.Feltman owns a suit — which he wore most publicly when he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2019 — but insists he wear it mostly on halloween.
The clothes politicians wear have the power to create and even maintain their identities, and Feltman’s hoodie is a great example. “It’s all the more powerful if it means his critics are pathologicalizing it for some nefarious reason,” Casanova said. “It’s obviously working for him, though, so he’ll probably be laughing all the way to the Senate.”