Harry Truman unexpectedly became president with the death of Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945. He spent the next year bringing World War II to an end and focusing on post-war reconstruction. The stress took its toll on Truman's health. His doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered him to get some rest and in November 1946 Truman took his first "working vacation" to Key West, Florida. A quiet locations was found at the Naval Base in Key West, Florida.
At first Truman did not adopt the dress of the locals, continuing to wear dress shirts and slacks, even on fishing excursions. However, he soon realized the benefit of more comfortable, lightweight sport shirts and regularly wore them in Key West. The look eventually became what he and his staff referred to as the "Key West Uniform."
On Truman's fifth trip to Key West in November 1948, Ben Bloom, president of Miami-based Royal Palm Sportswear, sent Truman four brightly patterned sport shirts, including one with a stylized bird design. Some questioned whether the president would wear the non-conservative shirts, but for four consecutive days, he was photographed in them, causing a lot of comment.
When photographs of Truman wearing colorful sport shirts were published nationally, other companies and individuals sent him shirts in large quantities. The President chose clothing for himself from the many packages of shirts, caps and other gear and then allowed his staff and news men to choose. As the years progressed, not only did Truman appear in more flamboyant shirts, but the “circus” as he called them, did as well.
This free publicity increased the popularity of sport shirts and improved sales for the sportwear industry. The public's opinion of Truman's shirts varied. In newspaper articles they were often referred to as "spiffy," "dizzy" and "wild." A writer for Life magazine claimed that most people agreed the President's shirts were "much too loud." For the locals in tropical locations such as Florida and Hawaii, the look was not out of the ordinary. Colorful prints and un-tucked shirt tails were the norm.
To view President Truman's "tropical duds" visit the Sport Shirt Gallery. Click on each shirt image for more detailed information.
Last updated: April 10, 2015