Wearing a white button-down shirt, a thin black-and-white striped tie and those same peanut-coloured trousers – or “Kornacki khakis”, as Twitter named them – his appearance was met with a now familiar mix of arousal and comfort.
“When you’re writing on that board that comforts me,” posted Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones. “Wait a minute, how did you figure that out so quick, Steve, in your head like that?”
The actor Jennifer Esposito tweeted: “Kornacki, in his khakis, for the win!”
Back in November, Kornacki went viral during election week with the same look, equal parts preppy and “classic 90s guy”. An internet thirst trap was born – he was called “map daddy” and “chart throb” – and demand for his trousers increased to staggering levels.
“Since November, the number of US retailers selling out has risen by 97% compared to the year prior,” says Edited market analyst Kayla Marci.
Kornacki who said he had “a bunch” of the khakis from Gap, had turned the traditionally boring trouser into something else. In the era of comfort over style he has “made them into a sort of ‘Dad Bod’ of trousers”, said Zara Anishanslin, a fellow at the Davis Center for Historical Studies.
Also worn by President-elect Joe Biden, the trousers communicate a traditional idea of masculinity relating back to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape or the casts of Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge On the River Kwai.
“[They] share a certain dashing element,” said Anishanslin, “but it’s a dashingness built more on defiance and heroism in the face of overwhelming odds.”
Indeed, one can see a line between the sort of ordinary heroism seen in the golden age of cinema and what Kornacki and Biden now represent.
“As a working-class boomer made good, I think the khaki is very authentic for Biden,” said Jessica Glasscock, a lecturer at the Parsons School of Design. “He’s not projecting: he is simply evincing.”
Through wearing the trousers, the president-elect and Kornacki are “following the ‘roll up your sleeves and get to work’ attitude,” said Andrew Burstine, associate professor of business and management at Lynn University.
That is a shift from the perception of khakis in the 1980s and 90s, when the market was cornered by the Gap, which aligned the trousers with edginess and cool: its Who Wore Khakis series of ads in 1993, for example, featured legendary, semi-countercultural figures wearing the trousers.
Glasscock said “the Gap brought the khakis to the mall, where kids bought them in droves inspired by mid-century hipsters like Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac and James Dean. Cool at a cut-rate price of $29 per pair.”
In 2021, khakis are not cool but they are something else.
Kornacki has “turned their association with geeks into geek chic”, Glasscock said.