Monday, Jan. 09, 2012

Jimmy Carter's Cardigan

On Feb. 2, 1977, just two weeks after being sworn in as the 39th President, Jimmy Carter delivered a fireside chat from his West Wing study. Carter, a peanut farmer from Plains, Ga., was using the power of network television to "keep in close touch with the people of our country, to let you know informally about our plans."

What caught the attention of viewers that night wasn't necessarily what Carter said, but what he wore: an unbuttoned beige wool cardigan, to stay warm after turning down the heat to conserve energy. That month, TIME wrote that the cardigan "may prove to be the most memorable symbol of an Administration that promises to make steady use of symbolism." Unlike today's era of hyper-stylized image consultancy, in which everything a politician wears is scrutinized, Carter simply wore for the taping what he had worn to dinner. He asked his TV adviser and adman what they thought, and they told him to look at the TV monitor to see for himself. While Carter would have myriad difficulties in the coming years, that early high point was purely authentic. "He was folks, and folks is in," a Republican insider told TIME. "I hate to say it, but from a purely analytical point of view, I loved it."