Ascot ascendant? Martin eyes neckwear comeback

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by Henry C. Jackson
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)—Roland Martin is talking revolution in this buttoned-down town.

“We’re going to do this one by one, person by person, block by block,” the talk show host and TV personality says.

Martin’s revolution has nothing to do with health care, bank bailouts or federal spending. It’s all about the lush puff of maroon silk underneath his chin.

An ascot…

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MAKING A STATEMENT—Roland Martin fixes his pocket square after putting on an ascot, May 14, in Washington.

Once the proud mark of an aristocrat, now an act of rebellion inside the Beltway.

Martin, owner of 70 or so ascots, has sported them at congressional galas and at least one White House Christmas party. He wears them regularly on CNN and on this particular Friday at the taping of his Sunday talk show for TV One, a Black-oriented cable network.

Martin’s love of ascots recently attracted the eye of Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” who playfully mocked Martin’s fashion statement, then donned a makeshift ascot of his own. Martin quickly deemed Stewart’s ascot as less than authentic—and promised to select a proper ascot from his personal collection and send it to the comic.

Convincing Jon Stewart is one thing. But this is Washington—a city well known for its power players, its monuments and perhaps its traffic, but seldom for its sartorial sense.

Can a place where off-the-rack suits from Brooks Brothers are de rigueur really embrace a flamboyant, forgotten fashion accouterment?

Well, it did at one time.

Ascot advocates correctly point out that past presidents liked to sport the wider neckwear. Local retailers also report the ascot is ascendant, although most caution that it takes a certain type of guy to pull it off.

“It takes a certain swagger,” Martin says.

At Andrew’s Ties, where only Italian-made neckwear is sold, manager Carlos Palma says the store’s chic, multi-hued collection of ascots draw regular interest.

“When someone is into them, they’re really into them,” Palma said. “A lot of people don’t know what to do with them at first. We have to tell them how to tie them, but once they understand, it’s a whole different story.”

Brian Coyne, 51, is not so sure. Wearing the standard D.C. uniform—dark suit, striped tie—as he drinks coffee in Union Station near the Capitol with similarly attired Bennett Blodgett, Coyne recalls last wearing an ascot “for about a week during college.”

“I think if I walked into a meeting today with elected officials, wearing an ascot, I might be asked to leave,” says Blodgett, 28. But, he adds, “they’d definitely remember me.”

Beneath the silk veneer of Martin’s ascot push is a simpler notion: Washingtonians should loosen up a little bit.

“D.C. is Urkel,” Martin says referring to the famous TV dork of the ’90s sitcom “Family Matters,” Steve Urkel. “I’m trying to get folks to understand you don’t have to be boring. It’s OK to be a little bit contrarian.”

James Cassaberry, a 47-year-old federal worker, agrees with Martin. “It’s a style of distinction. And it should come back to this area,” he said.

Still Cassaberry, notes “you can’t wear them all the time.”

That goes for Martin, too.

At Friday’s taping, Martin’s producer tells him to switch his ascot for a proper necktie because Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would arrive soon.

Martin does so, and greets his guest. Then Mills’ aide pipes up, asking:

“Where’s your ascot?”

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