Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Palace Guard

As Britain's Prime Minister Harold Wilson arrived at the south portico of the White House last week, he may have had a fleeting fancy that he had come to a banana republic or a Balkan kingdom. On hand to greet him were a squad of White House guards caparisoned in Graustarkian dress uniforms festooned with gold braid and nipped at the waist with black leather gunbelts. The black vinyl hats trimmed in gold suggested, by turns, a Ruritanian palace guard, a Belgian customs inspector, and Prince Danilo in The Merry Widow. President Nixon was impressed during his European tour last year by the shakos and braids of the ceremonial guards he encountered. Nixon—who himself wears, somber grays and blues—had his staff order some kitschily elaborate threads for 150 of his White House police from a Washington military tailor. What did the President think of the uniform? "He likes it," reported Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Some guests may have wondered whether the White House would soon revert to its old name. For a time, in the 19th century, the executive mansion was known as the President's Palace. - TIME Monday, Feb. 09, 1970

Americans expect a certain degree of formality with the presidency but are leery of too much pomp and circumstance. The gold-trimmed tunics and peaked hats struck many Americans as a comical attempt to emulate the trappings of European royalty. The black hat was first to go, replaced by the soft white hat. The entire uniform was abandoned during the mid-1970s. - The Democratic Underground