President Zelensky criticised for informal clothing worn to meet President Biden - but there's a reason behind it

Stock picture of US President Joe Biden meeting Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Getty Images)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has been criticised by some for not wearing formal attire to meet the US President Joe Biden. (Getty Images)

Volodymyr Zelensky's relaxed clothing has sparked a debate after his historic meeting with Joe Biden yesterday.

The Ukrainian president is believed to have made his first trip outside his home country since the Russian invasion began in February this year, flying to Washington on Wednesday to meet with the US president.

The 44-year-old Ukrainian leader arrived at the White House, where he was greeted by President Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden, before going on to address Congress.

While his 20-minute speech was widely praised and repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations, the clothing he wore to deliver garnered discussion.

A post, shared to Vogue's Instagram, pictured Zelensky posing alongside Biden and the First Lady, and while the US president and his wife were both dressed in formal attire, the president in a suit and the first lady in a buttoned coat dress, the Ukrainian leader wore an olive green sweatshirt, cargo pants and hard boots.

In the comments section many social media users questioned whether the attire was entirely in keeping for a meeting with the US President. But, there's an important reason for president Zelensky's outfit choice.

President Zelensky's outfit explained in 9 points

What did President Zelensky wear to meet president Biden? Posing for pictures beside President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, the Ukrainian President wore an olive green jumper with the Ukrainian coat of arms stitched onto it, khaki coloured trousers, and chunky brown boots.

What did the US President and First Lady wear? In a stark contrast to Zelensky's casual combination, the President wore a sharp, navy suit with a brown and yellow striped tie. His wife opted for a formal pale blue coat dress with oversized buttons.

Stock picture of President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcoming President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Getty Images)
While President Zelensky stuck to his military-style clothes, President Biden and the First Lady dressed formally. (Getty Images)

Zelensky's attire garnered some criticism. Some believed it to be too casual for the president of a country and not formal enough for a meeting with the US President.

"He comes to the White House on a presidential visit and he is dressed like he is going camping," one Instagram user wrote.

"With all the money we give them I am sure he could afford to wear a suit. I don’t care what the situation is and I don’t care about the reason he has to wear that ugly outfit, you’re invited to the White House dress accordingly."

"My goodness someone could have at least dressed him," another user agreed.

"This man needs a suit," another person commented.

Others were supportive of Zelensky's outfit choice. "I actually appreciate that he didn't dress up," one supporter commented on the Vogue Instagram post. "He is showing that he's still with his country mentally and still in the military mindset. He's not here to schmooze or prove anything. He's only here to request help for his people. I respect the hell out of him."

"Even in politics, fashion plays a big role with an underlying message," another user added. "Could he have worn a suit? Sure. But he’s in the USA to talk about what’s going on in his country, the outfit suits the whole situation. Its good that he’s making a statement."

"Zelensky and his cargo pants have my heart," another wrote simply.

Stock picture of President Zelensky with President Joe Biden. (Getty Images)
President Zelensky has been wearing his military-hued clothes since Ukraine was invaded. (Getty Images)

What's the meaning behind the outfit? Opting to forgo the more traditional business casual clothing we're used to seeing for meetings of world leaders Zelensky chooses to face all public officials, and his people, dressed the same way - in an olive green T-shirt or crew neck jumper and cargo trousers.

In doing so, Zelensky is using his attire as something of a symbol of the conflict his country is currently facing.

While his appearance is undoubtedly casual, it remains a steady constant and a visual representation that the nation he represents remains at war with his people fighting for freedom.

The contrast with President Biden's formal suit further hammered the message.

The Ukranian leader's outfit choices have previously drawn criticism. Earlier this year economist and stockbroker, Peter Schiff, questioned Zelensky's decision to forgo formal attire. “I understand times are hard, but doesn’t the President of the #Ukraine own a suit?” Schiff wrote in a tweet.

But his statement look was defended by many, including experts in historic dressing.

“He’s wearing clothes that connect him to the armed forces, without seeming militaristic, and sending a message that he is focused on practical matters,” Rebecca Arnold, senior lecturer in history of dress at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, told The Independent.

“The colour is especially important for this – the garments connect with everyday people, making him part of their struggle, too, but the colour and repetition of these clothes make them a uniform for his leadership and suggest he is ready for action.”

President Zelensky's signature look is proving popular. It is believed that President Zelensky was wearing an M-TAC jumper for the historic meeting with Biden. M-TAC is a US clothing company, which has been making Zelensky's olive green fleece sweatshirts.

Earlier this year the jumper became so popular that the brand went out of stock, promising only to restock upon a Ukrainian "victory."

Meanwhile, one of Zelensky's iconic jumpers was auctioned off in London for an incredible £90,000.

Stock image of Boris Johnson and Zelensky. (Getty Images)
President Zelensky stuck to his signature style when meeting the then PM Boris Johnson. (Getty Images)

Zelensky is not the first leader to send a message with their outfits. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill was famously photographed in his black hat and cigar. The message being, business as usual.

And when Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister she changed her signature style to include power suits, potentially in a bid to appear more masculine in the male dominated Houses of Parliament.

When will President Zelensky change his signature style? Earlier this month the Ukrainian president told the Financial Times that he would keep on wearing his new outfit, ditching the suit until after the war is over.

In a tweet, journalist Christopher Miller revealed that the Ukrainian leader spoke to him personally about his outfit choice and growing "a war beard."

"Zelensky told me he wouldn’t go back to wearing a suit and tie and shaving his beard until Ukrainian victory in the war," Miller wrote on Twitter.

So it seems, until Russia retreats from Ukraine, Zelensky will continue championing the iconic olive green.