Felix Salmon

The semiotics of Larry Summers’s neckwear

By Felix Salmon
October 10, 2009

Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of Larry Summers was very good, but in many ways it’s the accompanying photograph, by Martin Schoeller, which is even more intriguing: it shows the key members of Barack Obama’s economic team striding purposefully away from the White House, with intense lighting from both front and back. There’s a certain Reservoir Dogs feeling to it, with Christy Romer playing the Chris Penn odd-man-out role.

But here’s the thing: what’s up with the men’s ties?


They’re all purple burgundy, and although it’s hard to tell from the lighting, they’re all virtually identical shades of purple burgundy. But each one has a different density of yellow spots, from Peter Orszag, whose tie is positively teeming with the things, through to Tim Geithner, whose tie has none at all. Summers is closer to the Orszag end of the spectrum, while Jared Bernstein is closer to Geithner.

It all reminds me of nothing so much as the semiotics of shirt collars in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, where the more pointed your collar was, the more senior you were within the crime organization. But the meaning of the yellow dots, I have to say, defeats me. Does anybody have the decoder ring?

6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Wasn’t that Goodfellas?

Posted by HoneyBearKelly | Report as abusive

Maybe it refers to Gunther’s Hoard? (Too tired to sit through 15 hours of Wagner to know for sure right now).


Your posting does not provide enough information. Where are the photos of Goldman Sachs ties ? That will probably provide the yellow decoder


Top of the mornin to ya…ya that seems to be the GS look. All white power shirt and burgundy tie

Posted by Patches O' Hoolihan | Report as abusive

Clearly, Orszag is Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Tall, thin, and a head taller than everyone else. He’s strides confidently apart from the group. Orzsag’s tie is positively teeming with yellow dots because it symbolizes his greatness.


I’m sure there’s something similar in Goodfellas, but yes, more than anything it looks like Reservoir Dogs to me. Although that’s unsettling if you take it too far, since it means the heist is about to go all wrong.

As for the burgundy ties, I’ve been out of that game too long. I remember the era of the Pink Tie, and the Obligatory Ferragamo Tie With Some Sort Of Tiny Whimsical Animals, but now I must defer to those who keep up better with this sort of thing.

Wasn’t there some minor flap a few months ago about Summers wearing a Harvard tie? Wouldn’t that be crimson, or burgundyish?

Posted by SelenesMom | Report as abusive

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