On Wednesday, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of war-torn Ukraine, arrived in Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden. However, some were perplexed by Zelensky’s decision not to wear a conventional business suit on such a formal diplomatic engagement.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Zelensky has become well known for his dressed-down look. The Ukrainian President has eschewed a business suit in favor of a green army sweatshirt and trousers.
Zelensky’s dressed-down outfit
This Wednesday, the Ukrainian President left his country for the first time since the Russian invasion in February for an important diplomatic mission in the US. During the trip, Zelensky met with his American counterpart in the White House and addressed Congress.
The diplomatic mission was essential for Ukrainian security interests because Ukrainian forces are dependent on continued American military support and funding. Given the gravity of this visit, many were surprised that Zelensky chose to greet the U.S. President and address Congress in anything other than formal business attire.
Instead of a suit, Zelensky wore an olive green sweater and trousers with a pair of military-style boots. As expected, Biden met Zelenksy wearing a formal suit. Members of Congress likewise wore formal business attire.
Zelensky’s casual appearance in Washington D.C. certainly raised some eyebrows and many members of the general public expressed both praise and criticism of his appearance on social media.
One commentator said, “He comes to the White House on a presidential visit and he is dressed like he is going camping.”
I know there's a war, but #Zelensky isn't under fire. He flew to the U.S. aboard a U.S. government private jet, arrived at the White House in a Chauffeur Driven SUV, yet showed up wearing a sweatshirt. It's better than a t-shirt, but I still maintain the proper attire is a suit.
— Peter Schiff (@PeterSchiff) December 21, 2022
Others on social media thought that the outfit aptly signified Ukraine’s ongoing military struggle. “He is showing that he’s still with his country mentally and still in the military mindset,” one user commented on Instagram.
Any concerns about Zelensky’s outfit were not an issue in Congress, however. The Ukrainian President was greeted with multiple standing ovations. More importantly, President Biden pledged to provide Ukraine with an additional $1.85 billion in funding for military equipment and send a Patriot missile battery for Ukrainian forces to use.
Zelensky’s reasons for not wearing a suit are deliberate and political. His current signature green outfit is meant to project a certain image. Zelensky’s transformation from TV comedian to unlikely president and then to wartime leader has been rapid since he first took office in 2019.
Since the Russian invasion in February, the Ukrainian President has rarely been seen in public wearing anything other than his trademark green fatigues. The T-shirt he frequently wears is also emblazoned with the Cross of Ukraine, an emblem of the country’s armed forces.
Although Zelensky is not an active combatant, he has adopted the military-like outfit to signal solidarity with the armed forces of his country. According to several journalists and commentators, the outfit is also a simple but apt political tactic, meant to signal defiance against Russia.
The green fatigues are also perhaps meant to further distance himself from his adversary in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin. Putin portrays a very different appearance in a business suit versus the rugged image projected by Zelensky.
During his trip to the U.S., Zelensky was asked about his wartime outfit. According to Christopher Miller, a Ukraine war correspondent for the Financial Times, Zelensky told him that he would not don a suit or shave until the war is over.
Zelensky told me he wouldn’t go back to wearing a suit and tie and shaving his beard until Ukrainian victory in the war. Although the beard might stick around after. See below. https://t.co/JU9b2S96p4
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) December 21, 2022
Miller tweeted: “Zelensky told me he wouldn’t go back to wearing a suit and tie and shaving his beard until Ukrainian victory in the war. Although the beard might stick around after.”