In the week since his trial began, we have learned that Paul Manafort, the college-football-coach-lookin-ass motherfucker who is currently facing multiple charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, and money laundering, is the owner of multiple exotic-leather jackets, each costing tens of thousands of dollars. This news wasn’t really a shock: Trump administration officials, like their spiritual-ideological father, tend toward the kind of gaudy, tacky, expensive shit that makes Louis XIV seem demure. The court-itemized list of his belongings—photographed as though the clothes themselves were serving time—also invoked Buzz Bissinger’s legendary shopping addiction confessional for GQ, in which he described his own ostrich jacket as “the most expensive leather jacket I own.”
Friday in the Washington Post, Pulitzer-winning fashion critic/my queen Robin Givhan goes hard on why, exactly, the ostrich jacket and the rest of the contents of Manafort’s closet are such a perfect distillation of the former Trump campaign chairman’s sheer grossness:
The jacket is an atrocity — both literal and symbolic. It’s a garment thick with hubris and intent. For the prosecution, it was not an opening statement; it was an opening salvo.
As a matter of aesthetics, it’s worth stipulating that most clothes would not look particularly enticing dangling from a wooden hanger hooked over the back of an open door. And the government’s photographer is not exactly Richard Avedon. But hanger appeal is not the problem. The jacket, with its white topstitching and white satin lining, lacks finesse, artistry and sophistication. It’s simply a celebration of ostrich leather, which is to say that it is a celebration of money and excess. Ostrich, after all, is an expensive, exotic skin. Manafort also owned python, which he had stitched into an equally unimpressive but expensive jacket.
A man should not be prosecuted for his fashion choices; but those choices say a lot about whom the man believes himself to be. Manafort wasn’t interested in bespoke fashion as a public statement of his style acumen. He wasn’t buying designer brands as proof of tribal membership. He wasn’t hunting down elusive products as testament to his cultural cachet. For him, fashion is akin to a stack of Monopoly money. It’s about accumulation — about not just having the most stuff but the most expensive stuff.
This is a sickness apparently shared across the Trump administration, from Ben Carson’s $31,000 table to Steven Mnuchin’s virtual everything to Scott Pruitt’s publicly-subsidized search for luxury lotions to Trump’s own gold-plated toilet. The ancestrally wealthy would call this sort of showiness an example of “new money,” but that’s an outdated term (and like, fuck the ancestrally wealthy): Mostly, it’s an embrace of income inequality as a political and social accessory. It’s a version of wearing your contempt.
In Manafort’s case, as Givhan notes, it’s more about how the labels and exclusivity of his stupid ass suits give him the illusion of power and elevation, and yet most everything he owned is dreadfully conservative and uncreative in presentation. The two jackets that show some flashiness—the ostrich and the python—feel extremely dated not just in their cruelty but also in their cuts, like Manafort is having some kind of midlife crisis to 1986, in-between Patrick Bateman and Cool Divorcée trying on some fuccboi shit to the great humiliation of his children. The coats and accessories were the trappings of a life in pursuit of power and money, and all the choices that led him to where he finds himself today. Still, though, he may not have to think about choosing his own wardrobe for too much longer.