Barack Obama ditched the campaign trail for the bike trail last weekend, offering onlookers a rare peek into the Democratic nominee's casual-wear closet.
It wasn't a pretty picture: ill-fitting jeans, a tucked-in golf shirt, black-and-white socks and a helmet that could make Michael Dukakis blush.
"Please tell me he isn't wearing dark socks," commented one of many Internet fashionistas who weighed in on Obama's recent ride along Lake Michigan with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 9.
"Barry is politically correct, wearing a nice helmet," noted another, tongue firmly in cheek.
But the professional fashion police were much more forgiving, arguing that Obama's regular-guy look could help him shed his image as a buttoned-up politician whose idea of dressing down is rolling up his white shirt sleeves.
"I like seeing my politicians in goofy weekend attire," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. "It means they're thinking about more important stuff."
Tim Gunn, the stylish host of Bravo's "Project Runway," was equally forgiving, arguing that compared with the baggy getups that most guys call clothes on the weekend, Obama was a picture of casual refinement.
"I am grateful that he is not wearing sweats. I am grateful that he is wearing athletic shoes and not Crocs, and I am grateful he is wearing a collar," Gunn told the Daily News. "For a weekend out with the kids, I think he looks great. I give him a B-plus."
The presidential campaign trail is, of course, littered with near-fatal fashion statements. Dukakis' decision to don a helmet while riding a tank in a military photo op in 1988 all but cost him the election.
Al Gore was eviscerated
in 2000 for his decision to shift his wardrobe to "earth tones," a color spectrum that image consultant Naomi Wolf deemed more reassuring to audiences.
There is even a full lineup of candidate bike-wear that Obama, consciously or not, has now joined - although at a decidedly off-the-rack level.
President Bush is known to own at least three souped-up mountain bikes, including a $5,000 Cannondale that he clips into for weekend rides. Former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry always raised eyebrows when he'd donspandex shorts for a spin on his $6,000 carbon-fiber road racer.
Obama's ride - which on Sunday included an attached rear bike that he used to tow one of his daughters - is a basic Trek that likely retails for $400 to $500, said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.
"This is clearly an everyman's bike," said White, "although it looks like he could use a little air in the rear tire and the seat could be raised a little bit."