We’ve long known that Breitbart-exec-turned-Trump-adviser-turned-Breitbart-exec-again Steve Bannon doubles up his button-down shirts. What we’ve yet to understand is why.
Yes, whether toiling away at the White House, making a hotel conference look like the set of a hostage video, or enduring a casual photo shoot in his home that doesn’t warrant wearing pants, Bannon seems entirely immune to the idea of wearing fewer than two collared shirts. At this point it’s a sartorial signature — he can’t stop now. For his recent 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon once again doubled up.
This behavior has earned Bannon a lot of snickering coverage, with headlines including “Can Someone Please Tell Steve Bannon How to Wear Shirts?” and “Steve Bannon Still Doesn’t Know How to Wear a Shirt.” It’s tempting to ridicule the man for this strange commitment to his rumpled, flabby appearance — and it may help us forget that he is a horribly influential white supremacist — but we run the risk of ignoring what should be self-evident: When Bannon wears two collared shirts, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
And if we ever want to explain this fashion choice, we need to assess every theory for it.
1) Ascot Envy
Bannon’s layered shirts at times have the vibe of some faded white aristocracy, as though he is trying to recapture the mid-1600s, when Europeans adopted cravats. The loose ascot tie, popularized by the Royal Ascot horse race, is the best-known “casual” version of a cravat — and Bannon, who we know hated wearing a blazer while working for Trump, is nothing if not casual. It’s entirely plausible that he wants to go full Edwardian cosplay but is hesitant to take the plunge, lest he lose his cred with voters whose idea of formal wear is a MAGA T-shirt without Doritos stains on it. Alas and alack.
Bannon and his ilk are practiced in the art of wrapping their messages in euphemism. The same way they use terms like “globalist” to attack Jews, doubled shirts could easily serve as a secret means of communication. For 60 Minutes, and at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, he wore one black shirt over another, perhaps signaling his followers to hammer the racist narrative of “black-on-black crime.” At other moments, he wears a white collared shirt underneath a solid blue or blue-checked shirt, obviously alluding a blue-skied utopia with the superior white race as its foundation.
3) Revenge of the 1980s
Like Trump and everyone else disdainful of “the elites,” Bannon secretly longs to be one. He also relishes being the villain. And there is no better retro indication of elite villainy than wearing a fuckton of collared shirts like the preppy antagonist of a raunchy ’80s comedy. This hypothesis aligns perfectly with Bannon’s hateful jealousy over Jared Kushner’s role in the White House, since Trump’s beloved son-in-law better embodies the archetype without even dressing that way. Sadly for Bannon, there aren’t enough polo shirts in the world to match this level of country-club sleaze. It’s a lost cause.
4) He’s Cold, or Thinks It Looks Good (or Really Doesn’t Care)
After his years in Florida, could the D.C. climate be too frosty for Bannon? Or perhaps he finds the air conditioning in the halls of power a bit excessive. Layering for comfort across a range of temperatures is quite sensible, yet Bannon is breaking all the basic rules of the strategy — the most basic being to understand the practical value of each individual garment. Wearing two identical shirts is not only visually garish but literally redundant; talk about government waste! There’s a chance, also, that Bannon got ahold of a Ralph Lauren catalog with an insane image like the one below and finally decided, “If this is what counts as fashion, I’mma just do me. No gods, no masters.”
Incredibly, there is some evidence that a polo under a button-down can work…
But leave it to Bannon to go full “disgraced football coach in a bunker” with it.
5) The Containment Premise
Our last (and in my view, most compelling) argument: By wearing multiple shirts, Bannon is keeping some bodily effluvia from seeping out into the atmosphere.
To judge by Bannon’s face, the rest of his skin surface could be moltingly dry or slicked with booze-sweat, necessitating an airtight absorption system. Maybe he hates when his crusty nipples show through the inadequate fabric of a single Oxford. I can’t even rule out the notion that he’s concealing a psychic mutant that lives in his chest cavity.
More realistically, Bannon goes double-shirted to simultaneously draw attention up from his midsection (toward those nested collars) and secure said gut with a kind of de facto corset. With so many layers on, it becomes difficult to tell where Bannon’s bulk ends and the wardrobe begins. Truly, he is the great manipulator we’ve feared all along.