Holden wants costumes to entertain and inspire

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 11:04pm

Mayor Kip Holden has shown two very different sides of himself recently. He was serious, bordering on hostile during the firing of police chief Dewayne White. But the more common sight occurred just a few days earlier, when he attended the Spanishtown Ball wearing a jacket out of the French Revolution.

"Now it's gotten to the point where people say to me, 'man, we just come to see what you're gonna wear," Holden said.

He has dressed like Santa Claus, an ancient Greek soldier, and a bicycle cop, among other things.

And the costumes seem to work, because he has been re-elected as mayor twice.

Even on an ordinary day, Holden's clothes make him hard to miss. He enjoys suits with big patterns and bright colors, but especially both at once.

"If the lights go out anywhere," he joked, "you can always follow me!"

Better yet, there are lots of events where he gets to dress in costume. For 25 years, since he first assumed public office, Holden has been Santa Claus to read to children; Napoleon for Mardi Gras, or to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase; a soldier for the annual Greek Festival. He estimates he owns more than 100 suits and costumes.

"But I always try to, basically, put myself in the occasion or the moment," he said.

That includes serious occasions. During Hurricane Isaac, Holden wore clothes from the police department, fire department, and EMS.

"I try to incorporate the outfits of different people," Holden stated, "even in the case of a storm, to really show, showcase those first responders."

Some of his critics think he should spend less time planning his outfits and more time solving the city's crime and education problems. But that is not the response Holden hears.

"They love it," he said of his constituents, "because it's unusual for a lot of them to just kind of see a mayor go with the flow."

When asked about his love of clothing, Holden quickly mentions that he does not spend any taxpayer money on his wardrobe, and he stops almost every time he signs advertisements for sales. He added that his wardrobe decisions are his alone, but people kid him about ceding some control to his wife.

The biggest challenge for Holden is not choosing something to wear, but the restrictions placed on him during election season.

"Whenever you're in a campaign, when I tell you consultants, man, I cannot get away with wearing any of this stuff here," he said.

His choices are also very strategic. When he attends sporting events, he knows that the right shirt will help the public identify with him as a man of the people.

"I have a Southern U. baseball jersey," he said. "When I go to LSU, I always call and ask, 'what color are they dressing out in today?' And so I either have purple, gold, or white.

"You'd be amazed how fans look at you and say, 'apparently you didn't get the memo,'" if he is caught wearing the incorrect color.

More importantly, his wardrobe is a time machine. Each piece reminds him of his past, and he hopes the inspire the future leaders of Baton Rouge.

"I came up very, very poor," Holden said. "On the other hand, I've been blessed to the point whereby I've been able to get a lot of different things.

"I want to tell young people I had virtually nothing growing up. This is not a status symbol for me. Hopefully, this is a symbol to them to say that, 'I know, if I work hard enough, some of the things that I've seen that the mayor has on, that I can afford that myself.'"  

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