The Corner

Culture

The Fashion Police

(Special Counsel's Office via Reuters)

What is it that Paul Manafort is charged with again? So far, the prosecution seems to be trying him for the crime of being a rich a**hole with bad taste.

Or having been. I take it his finances have declined.

Much is being made of Manafort’s shopping addiction: this expensive suit, that expensive ostrich-skin jacket, etc. (Yes, you’d think a guy who spent like that on clothes would have a better wristwatch.) My understanding is that he’s charged with getting his money badly, not spending it badly. But I’m no lawyer, I suppose.

If we’re going to start prosecuting people in Washington for having expensive bad tastes, then the prosecution will never rest. GQ reports that a number of prominent Washington figures (Michael Cohen and Don Blankenship among them) have taken to wearing expensive Isaia suits and leaving in the little coral-colored lapel pin that labels them in the store, so that everybody knows what kind of suit they’re wearing. That’s just a little tackier than Minnie Pearl’s leaving the price tag on her hats. (Though one suspects that she, being thrifty, did so intending to return the hats to the store.) Every now and then (more often when abroad), you’ll see some would-be peacock wearing a suit jacket with the label still attached to the sleeve as a status symbol. Sporting the branding pin is the equivalent of that. It’s vulgar, but then D.C. is a vulgar place, and getting more so every day.

It is a great place to be if you like living high. (I’m not opposed to people’s spending their own money on things they like, and I have a few expensive tastes of my own.) A report a couple of years ago found that Washington leads the nation in per capita consumption of fine wines, and I have been told (though I am unable to document the fact) that there are more Bentley automobiles sold in the Washington area now than in Beverly Hills or Miami. Real estate certainly isn’t cheap there. Again, I don’t have any problem with any of that, save for the sneaking suspicion that I am, somehow, paying for it.

Make fun of Paul Manafort’s peacocking all you like. (Though, if given a choice, I’d vote for a Rick Owens guy or a John Varvatos guy over a Brooks Bros. guy or a Brioni guy for the big chair.) But I get a little bit nervous when people are effectively put on trial for being rich and unpopular.

Michael Milken did prison time over the paperwork on $318,000 worth of transactions in a period during which he made more than $1 billion; he didn’t go to prison for securities fraud — he went to prison for being a symbol of Wall Street arrogance and rapacity. Martha Stewart didn’t go to prison for insider trading, and in the end she wasn’t even convicted on that charge; she went to prison for being Martha Stewart.

Manafort is charged with lying on his tax returns and on a number of loan applications. That’s what he should be tried for — not for his sartorial adventures.

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