Zelensky brought his olive-green sweatshirt to Congress | Popgen Tech


He never wore the political camouflage of a suit.

The olive green sweatshirt with a small Ukrainian trident embroidered on the neck, cargo pants and boots worn by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on his trip to Washington might seem like the least important part of the high-profile and powerful political theater that was going on at the time. a diplomatic event, but they were also a tell-tale detail: a reminder of the exact purpose of the unexpected visit.

Namely, that despite the fact that this was Mr. Zelensky’s first foreign trip since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and despite the fact that Ukraine, defying all odds, held out for 10 months against an aggressor who, as expected to hand over the country with ease, the watching world should be aware: the battle was far from over.

In his military uniform, Mr. Zelensky was a constant, living symbol of that battle, regardless of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded him.

His homemade outfit stood out from the moment he stepped out of his diplomatic vehicle onto the White House lawn to be greeted by President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. They were a stark contrast to the president’s classic navy blue suit and the first lady’s sky blue coat and pumps. They stood out when Mr. Zelensky posed with the president for a photo op in the Oval Office, just in front of a fireplace hung with Christmas wreaths, and at a joint press conference the two held afterward, the flags of the United States and Ukraine behind them.

And they especially stood out in the large, wood-paneled halls of the Capitol building, where Mr. Zelensky took the podium to address a joint session of Congress, looking out over a sea of ​​dark suits, occasionally illuminated by lawmakers in jackets and accessories in blue- yellow colors of Ukraine.

“As far as we know, no one has ever appeared before the United States Congress in a sweatshirt,” Tucker Carlson later quipped on his Fox News show, comparing Zelensky to a “strip club manager” as well as Sam Bankman. -Fried, disgraced cryptocurrency financier. (Perhaps the idea was to suggest that both men avoided trial and used the public’s money for their own purposes—though that seems a bit of a stretch, since one was accused of fraud and the other is fighting for his country.)

Mr. Carlson may have been right about it being the first sweatshirt and Congress, but he missed the symbolism of the choice. And there is no doubt that the choice was made in advance.

After all, during his foreign trip, even given its clandestine nature, there was enough time for Mr. Zelensky to change clothes if he wanted to. And he clearly understands the power of optics. Not only because of his acting background, but also because of the consistency with which he performed his role in public appearances, addressing his people and allies via video message from a bunker in Kiev, Ukraine, most often wearing an olive green T-shirt. connecting with the people on the ground, giving the fight a human face. Military clothing has its own hierarchy and associations. The fact that Mr. Zelensky chose the simplest, most democratic clothes to sew on his own is no accident.

And his choosing to stay in character for Congress was as much a strategic decision as any deployment designed for an image-conscious era. To say that he understands that part of his job is marketing and branding is not to dismiss his appearance as mere performance, but to acknowledge that he uses every available tool to achieve his goal.

As it happened, Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew her own comparisons regarding Mr. Zelensky’s trip, comparing it to Winston Churchill’s speech to Congress in 1941, also in December, also during wartime. (Comparisons to Churchill were popular.) But while Mr. Churchill arrived at the White House in his signature accessories — a sailor’s cap, a walking stick adorned with a lantern, a holdover from the London blackout — he spoke to Congress in a traditional, stately in a familiar suit, addressing like-minded people, looking like like-minded people.

Mr. Zelensky took a different approach, realizing that he would paint a different picture of his circumstances if he changed his style, suggesting that perhaps the war had changed as well. Instead, he stayed the course.

When, at the end of his speech, Mr. Zelensky handed Ms. Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers fighting in the Donbass, and they unfurled it behind his olive-green silhouette like a frame, it was the picture of the evening. Chances are, when the story is written, the image will remain.

It was impossible not to read in this visual what the Ukrainian president also expressed in words: that he was there not as a sovereign leader who is gentle with a global peer, but as a sovereign leader who became a soldier, to repeat not only to those in but and to all possible audiences (people watching at home, browsing the Internet, sitting in the Kremlin) that he and the country he represents were fighting not only for themselves, but for the values ​​that the Western world cherishes. That they fought for everyone, and that it was a fight not less for minds, but also for the land.

The sweatshirt said it all.


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