Over the last few days, the world has said goodbye to the former President George H.W. Bush at a memorial in Houston, a state funeral in Washington, D.C., and a private funeral in Houston. Moving eulogies have been given by the great and the good and those close to the man, stories told and official statements rendered. But what has been equally striking are the unofficial gestures being made by people all around the country who have chosen to express their admiration and affection for the former president via … socks.
I think @GeorgeHWBush would have approved! Rest easy 41! A small way to honor you today by wearing not only some "crazy" colorful socks but personalized ones w/my dog's face on them! Thank you for ALWAYS being a representative of class & integrity. @GeorgeWBush__ #Remembering41 pic.twitter.com/U5cvSno7dI
Indeed, there has been a veritable outpouring of creative hosiery this week, on social media and on the streets and in schools, all in honor of Mr. Bush, himself a famous practitioner of the art of sock diplomacy. Business owners encouraged employees to wear wacky socks, students were urged to get creative, and a hashtag was created, #SocksforBush.
On this day were @GeorgeHWBush will take his final resting place @Bush41Library thought I’d honor him with my @astros socks #Remembering41 #SocksForBush #SockFor41 #HoustonStrong pic.twitter.com/15Ptlprw0X
Before there was Justin Trudeau, with his NATO flag socks worn to a NATO meeting, or the rainbow Eid numbers he wore on Gay Pride Day (which also happened to be the end of Ramadan), there was George H.W. Bush in an assortment of colorful, graphic pairs suited to every occasion. He wore red, white and blue striped numbers to the White House for the unveiling of his son’s official portrait in 2012; Bill Clinton socks to a meeting with Mr. Clinton; and socks from a company started by a man with Down syndrome on World Down Syndrome Day.
Often, the 41st president tweeted about his socks. His affinity for them became even more obvious after he began to use a wheelchair, as his ankles were exposed.
There’s a reason he was laid to rest in gray socks patterned with fighter planes flying in formation, and it’s not just because of his service as a naval aviator. It was because, as he wrote of himself in a 2014 fund-raising email for the Republican National Committee, “I’m a self-proclaimed sock man. The louder, the brighter, the crazier the pattern — the better.”
His ties might have played things by the establishment book, but his socks allowed him another kind of self-expression, one that cast him in a different light, and endeared him to many.
It’s often difficult for those outside the corridors of power to feel like active participants in this kind of national event, but the socks changed all that, allowing anyone to express themselves in the ritual of public mourning. Not everyone was invited to the National Cathedral service, but everyone can wear a wacky sock.
It was a final gift to the nation, of a sort. Not to mention the local sock industry — and a legacy worth noting for any politician who might be looking for more creative, accessible ways to communicate.
Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedman
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