Bush Exudes 'President Casual'

"President casual (search)" has been part of the commander-in-chief's style for decades, but George W. Bush has taken it to new heights, fashionistas and image consultants say.

America's current man at the top has made public appearances wearing an Air Force-style bomber jacket, military fatigues, cowboy boots with a business suit, and jeans, jeans and more jeans, not to mention countless open shirts without a tie or jacket.

He also swaggers and frequently stays at his Texas ranch where he hosts dignitaries, holds press conferences and talks about cleaning up brush.

"He's trying [to convince people] not through policy but through style," said Neal Gabler, author of "Life: The Movie" and a "Fox News Watch" panelist. 

Gabler said he believes Bush's rugged image is a deliberate attempt to deflect the wealthy blue-blood reputation of the Bush family.

"Look at me, I'm cleaning brush off my ranch and I wear a plaid shirt and I'm just folk," Gabler said, suggesting how Bush would describe himself.

Bush also infuses his down-home informality with a heaping dose of machismo.

"It's all about what a man he is," said Gabler. "What Bush has brought to this is testosterone."

Presidential machismo is nothing new. Ronald Reagan was considered a pro at it, and many other presidents marketed their manliness.

But previous presidents exuded an easy, polished masculinity. Bush's form of casual is calculated, rough around the edges and no-holds-barred, Gabler said.

Others say they think Bush's relaxed manliness isn't forced at all, but rather comes naturally.

"He's a good old boy from Texas," said Elycia Rubin, style and talent director at E! Networks. "Sometimes he's more casual, but that goes along with who he is."

One image management consultant, who calls clothing "the communicator of culture," said she thinks Bush has taken "president casual" too far.

Anderson C. Toney, who owns The Anderson Research Center of Image and Etiquette, said there's nothing wrong with going casual on some occasions. But she doesn't think it's appropriate for press conferences and other formal public appearances, especially in current times.

"When someone positions himself that casually, you start to see sloppy decision-making. It sends that message," said Toney, who claims she has paid close attention to Bush's style since he took office. "You're taking away from your credibility," she said.

"Because of the seriousness of everything going on, he needs to put on a much more serious face. People are looking for answers and when you're looking for answers, you don't go to someone in a cowboy suit," said Toney.

Presidential informality has a long history. From Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats to Jimmy Carter's sweaters and Bill Clinton's jogging in gym shorts, modern American heads of state have made a practice of pulling off president casual.

Gabler said emphasizing the president's humanity can be traced back to Andrew Jackson, who in 1829 invited ordinary citizens to come into the White House on Inauguration Day.

"The presidency had been more or less aristocratic and when Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams, that was a symbolic turning point," said Gabler. "The so-called aristocratic president now belonged to the people, and that notion has held for a very long time."

John F. Kennedy, Carter and Clinton also turned tradition on its head at their inaugural ceremonies. Kennedy showed up without a hat, unheard of at formal events of the time; Carter walked down the street shaking hands with people instead of riding in his motorcade, also a first for a president; and Clinton personally greeted guests at an inaugural reception he threw for the public.

Many modern presidents have become synonymous with a particular casual image. Reagan rode horses on his ranch, Clinton sported an open Polo shirt on the golf course and Kennedy played touch football and lounged on his sailboat.

Even the notoriously stiff Richard Nixon was famous for his annual beach photos at San Clemente, Calif., walking barefoot in the sand, his cuffs rolled up.

"Every president had his single defining image of informality," said Gabler.

But how a commander-in-chief uses "casual" is crucial to whether or not he can carry off the presidential image.

Toney said Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton managed to convincingly act both presidential and casual. But the current Bush still has a way to go.

"Reagan knew how to handle the presidential part, how to costume it," she said. "Bush is taking it down a notch. He needs to be polished off. He doesn't understand the right cues and clues to really claim his position as president."

E!'s Rubin disagrees.

"He's casual, but I wouldn't say he's alarmingly casual," she said. "I think he seems presidential. Once in a while, you have to be yourself. The suits can get awfully boring."