The D.C. working man's true power suit.

Author:Jefferies, Sam

Forget the French cuffs. Washington is run by an army of underpaid schlubs.

There is a misconception that the male D.C. uniform is a "power suit" and tie.

It isn't.

That ensemble belongs to the select number of lobbyists, lawyers, and self-titled trusted advisers who inhabit the dazzlingly white hallways of influence along K Street. They are rare specimens, populating a lucrative microclimate where jackets aren't too tight at the shoulders or too loose at the waist, where slacks break at just the right point on the ankle, and where shirts have subtle geometric patterns ingrained in the soft fabric. These are the lucky few who shop at select boutiques in Georgetown where rich leather dress shoes decorate storefront windows (no price tag--far too gauche) and honey-accented Brits wait patiently inside for the next prospect to enter.

The real male uniform--for the tens of thousands of unpaid interns, under paid Hill staffers, bureaucrats, think tank wonks, and nonprofit advocates who do the grunt work in Washington, D.C.--is much less refined. It's typically an off-the-rack dark suit, bought on sale from Calvin Klein or Banana Republic and worn Monday through Friday. (Of course, these guys work alongside an equally underpaid army of female toilers. But as a man, I don't feel qualified to comment on the ladies' uniform.) Each day features a different shirt-and-tie pairing, which is supposed to make colleagues believe that the wearer has a closet full of suits. But they all know the truth--that closet has one, maybe two jacket-pant combinations--because they're running the same con. It's what you have to do when you're faced with a formal dress code and a tight budget. The District's average monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment is $2,000. Uber pricing seems to be permanently on surge. Craft beers cost upwards of $9 a pint; a decent shot of whiskey at a bar in a gentrifying neighborhood might set you back $8.80, tip not included. All of this chisels deeply into the budgets of Washington's white-collar laboring class: staff assistants' salaries on Capitol Hill average just under $34,000 a year, and their entry-level brethren elsewhere fare only slightly better.

Note the shiny elbows of a dark suit worn too often at an office job that pays too little. Pay particular attention to the right sleeve, constantly rubbing across a legal pad as notes are furiously scribbled for a boss who seldom reads them. Check out the cracked leather around the belt...

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