There was a point during the inauguration ceremony Wednesday when the unfolding scenes felt like the scripted ending of a cheesy Hallmark movie, or the happy ending of a horror film that stretched on for four long years, depending on how you viewed the day.
Flecks of snow fluttered down and former Commanders in Chief congregated with friendly fist-bump greetings. Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who heroically diverted a seditious mob from the Senate chamber just two weeks prior, received an ovation as he escorted the country’s first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, to her seat. Though there to perform, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez—arguably two of the world’s most famous female faces—were visibly awestruck by the gravity of the history-making day.
And then it happened—a snap back down to earth, courtesy of a single pair of blue jeans in a sea of sharply tailored ensembles, symbolic color statements and Gaga’s custom Schiaparelli gown that, dare I say, seemed to float above the fray.
On hand to perform “Amazing Grace” after President Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, country music star Garth Brooks sauntered down the Capitol stairs decked out in a black cowboy hat, a blazer, a button-down shirt and Wrangler jeans—the heritage brand’s $39 Cowboy Cut Original Fit jeans, to be precise.
It’s a signature look that we’ve seen Brooks dress in for decades, and a style that fellow country musicians have adopted as the genre leapt from the costumes and glitzy suits of its down-home roots into the mainstream musical landscape and the fashion it favors. But on Wednesday, the decidedly casual style looked foreign and out of step on the inauguration stage.
I wondered what former President George W. Bush, who was sitting just a few feet from the country icon, thought about the singer’s sartorial choice. Despite his Texan roots, the president famously branded jeans as verboten inside the Oval Office in an attempt to restore etiquette in the highest office of the land, and confirmed that cowboys can exist in chinos.
I also tried to imagine Brooks’ packing process as he prepared for his trip to Washington, D.C. The cowboy crooner doesn’t seem like the type to ring up a stylist, so presumably he—perhaps with the help of wife Trisha Yearwood—handpicked the 100 percent cotton jeans from his own closet.
Then there’s the jeans’ center crease to consider, which a colleague had a strong opinion about. “Do you think Garth Brooks will usher in an era of ironing your jeans with a front pleat?” she asked, adding, “I want to hear from whoever pressed those jeans.”
She had a good point. Jeans, especially 14.75 oz. jeans, require heavy-duty ironing work, which we concluded must have been “sent away for service.” Whether a dry cleaner was responsible or the pressing was the handiwork of hotel staff, we agreed that it was a “professional job.”
Though I dissected his jeans, as I did with almost all of the inauguration fashion, I surprised myself by not objecting to them entirely. To be transparent, if anyone would have worn jeans four years ago to former President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I would have torn their decision to shreds. (I still have nightmares about Kellyanne Conway’s little drummer boy getup by Gucci, which proved luxury labels do not inherently equate to style.)
Jeans at Trump’s inauguration, in my mind, would have been another symbol of the administration’s acceptance of antiquated and harmful notions of the South. Having grown up next to a Florida town where the courthouse still has a lynching tree on its grounds, rope marks and all, and where my high-school classmates hung Confederate flags from their mud-splattered trucks, I’ve realized over the years that I automatically associate things that were par for the course in this backwards environment as being sinister and dangerous.
Cowboy jeans at formal events—as harmless as they may seem—are one of those things.
But that wasn’t the vibe Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol when Brooks, standing shoulder to shoulder with the young, diverse, blended families of the new president and vice president, called for everyone to join in the last chorus of the song—a gospel classic that has gone on to become a symbol of the civil right movement. Nor does it ever have to be.
By wearing what made him feel the most like himself on that important day—a pair of jeans—Brooks was living out exactly what the new administration stands for: self-expression, acceptance and the freedom to be your true self. Preconceived notions are out. Individuality is in.
So, here’s the deal, as President Biden would say: wear your jeans and crease them down the front if you so please. It’s a free country.