Suit ability: Why slick is not smart for oil chiefs

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Pity the poor oil executive, standing in front of his closet of a morning, deciding what to wear to testify in front of Congress about why, exactly, a great natural disaster occurred on their watch. After all, the last thing they would want to do is look too . . . slick.

Yet, at the same time, they have to look buck-stops-here responsible, powerful, ready to do what’s right, chastised, and empathetic. Who could parse such an outfit?

On Thursday, Lamar McKay, president of BP America, and Steven Newman, chief executive of Transocean, did their best, demonstrating a visible sartorial solidarity in the face of what was to come in matching white shirts; slightly rumpled, subdued suits; and rust-red patterned ties. Since chances are they did not purposefully wardrobe-coordinate before travelling to Washington, the parallel choices are interesting.

The suits and shirts, after all, while perfectly professional, set a vaguely repentant tone – there’s nothing master-of-the-universe about them – ditto the choice of belts over braces, ditto Mr McKay’s generic, non-Mont Blanc pen. Mr Newman’s gold watch face is a bit eye-catching, but the choice of leather strap for both is conservative: they are nice timepieces, but not in-your-face accessories.

It’s the ties though, that are the real focal point here, being the exact red shade of earthen clay; not banker red, but conservationist red. All of which goes to telegraph a certain level of ecological sensitivity – or efforts to be perceived that way. Hopefully, they’ll also recycle the documents they are clutching.

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