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December 18, 2014

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Obama’s tan suit buzzed around the world

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Evan Vucci / AP

In this Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, photo, President Barack Obama leaves after speaking about the economy, Iraq and Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of The White House in Washington, D.C., before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama’s summer fashion choice, not unprecedented among presidents — himself included — was the talk of social media Thursday. Other presidents who have taken on tan include Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower.

NEW YORK— Quick! What exactly did President Barack Obama say from the White House briefing room about Syria, Iraq and Ukraine while dressed in the tan suit buzzed ’round the world?

Precisely. If you get all your news from social media.

Obama's summer fashion choice, not unprecedented among presidents — himself included — was the talk of social media Thursday. It was both defended as a perfectly appropriate seasonal look and criticized as too big and wholly unpresidential for such serious subject matter.

The Twitter jeers flew: "Taupe and change," one said. Another tweeter riffed off the title of his book with "The audacity of taupe."

While Obama usually dresses in traditional power dark suits, he did don tan for Easter this year. But not while discussing possible U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

Other presidents who have taken on tan include Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, George W. Bush had a suit that his staff called Big Brown. As in, "Oh, no, he's wearing Big Brown today."

In keeping with his times, Franklin D. Roosevelt was fond of white.

Obama's suit accompanied his telling reporters "we don't have a strategy yet" on U.S. military action in Syria against the Islamic State, a violent militant group seeking to establish dominance in the Middle East. He spoke shortly before he met with security advisers.

"The power persona? Gone in that suit," said Los Angeles image consultant Patsy Cisneros, who has worked with U.S. senators, governors and corporate executives. (She has yet to snag a president or a presidential candidate).

"Everything below his neck was blah. That's not conducive to him being listened to," she said Friday.

One person who didn't take issue with Obama's light tan suit: Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist who helped lead Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. That would be the same campaign where the Republican National Committee spent thousands on Sarah Palin's clothes and look.

"I think it was a nice looking suit," the blunt-talking Schmidt bellowed into the phone Friday from Park City, Utah. "Ronald Reagan used to wear brown, tan and khaki suits with some frequency, and I think he looked fine."

Of the social media flap, Schmidt added: "It just means that the director of the movie 'Idiocracy' is a genius with great foresight. As the Russians invade Ukraine and ISIS storms across the Middle East ... we're focused on the president's suit."

It wasn't the first fashion flurry for Obama. Granted he's the first president who's spent his entire two terms in the grips of fast-moving social media. Back in 2009, before Twitter, Facebook and other platforms were the meme beasts they are today, Obama was panned for wearing "mom jeans" when he threw the first pitch at the All-Star Game.

The message of the suit, Cisneros said, was that of the "everyman, more at the bottom of the totem pole, more of, 'I'm a team player, not the leader.'"

In Washington, Cisneros said, power is perception, vitality, presence. For a social occasion or a vacation, the light tan suit would have been perfect for the president, she added.

"Wear your beige suit in the Hamptons. It's summer time. It's your vacation," she said. "If it's a social event, lovely. We're not listening to you. We're looking at how nice you look."

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Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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