Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s staff is cracking up. As he opens his suit jacket to show off his recent weight loss, his aides are doubling over in giggles, not because he’s holding out the excess length of his loosening leather belt but because he’s perched on the edge of his desk, posing for a fashion shoot.
This story first appeared in the September 26, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“My staff has definitely had to do fashion interventions over the years,” he says with a laugh. “They’ve said, ‘Your suit is attracting attention to you that’s bad,’ and ‘Speedos—don’t do it.’ ” Not that the mayor wears them. “It was preemptive,” he explains.
Now that he has returned to the median of his three suit sizes—“Embarrassingly, for different weights”—Booker’s belt is getting too big. “I’m so happy to show you my belt,” he beams.
It’s Booker’s second term in office, and along with new sizes, the Stanford and Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar has brought about a host of new city statistics. Since he took over as mayor, he has halved the city’s budget deficit, decreased its murder rate by 42 percent and increased philanthropic contributions to the city by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Such achievements take their toll, however. Last winter the stress of the job brought Booker up to the highest weight of his life. “I was so stressed, with massive layoffs and terrible police negotiations, I gained 50 pounds,” he remembers. When a citizen stuck in a snowstorm tweeted for help, Booker couldn’t find anything to wear to the rescue. “Even my relaxed jeans weren’t fitting me,” he says.
And that was a year after he’d been at his lightest. Leading up to the election, Booker had been so svelte, he’d had two suits made by Rag & Bone, but by the time they were ready, they didn’t fit. So when Michelle Obama asked him to be an honorary co–vice chair of her Partnership for Healthy America, he challenged the whole city to go on a diet, and collectively they lost 900 pounds.
Now in a charcoal Donald Bradley suit he couldn’t fit into six months ago, set off by a burgundy tie designed by Newark-based designer Michael Lamont, Booker is fresh off the basketball court. Days like these are typical in Booker’s schedule, so his style is function over fashion, he says. He wears a Nike watch (“My friends hate this watch”) and khakis on weekends (“My staff did an intervention on pleats”).
He’s been trying to figure out how to emulate President Obama’s tie knot. “The lines are all smooth around here,” he says, “but then Obama will always get the dimple.” Booker has kept his public attire consistent, except for once wearing a light-colored suit in a photo with Oprah. The tabloids called him Oprah’s new boyfriend.
Jeans supplement the khakis on weekends, but only to a point. “The baggy pants hanging…lower than the midpoint of the butt is something I just don’t understand,” he says. “There’s nothing about that look that can help you,” Booker adds, noting that this particular fashion trend has made it impossible to run down the street. “It used to be like, ‘I see London, I see France,’ but now if you see the underpants, it’s like, ‘Yeah!’ ”