The Genteel
March 7, 2021


Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul (Source: Wikimedia Commons).


The American political system was designed to be inherently conservative, and this characterisation also applies to the fashion choices of its politicians. Seen as a harbinger of vanity and frivolity, being "fashionable" can be quite dangerous to even the most popular of candidates, especially in the current economic climate.

Mitt Romney in his "simple man" suit
(Source: Getty Images).

While fashion may be something of a non-starter in the political world, there is no doubt that image is a significant factor in electability. Before a candidate even utters a word on the campaign trail, their first opportunity for self-promotion is through their style and choice of clothing. Modern candidates are acutely aware of this fact, yet, even with a host of image consultants by their sides, most end up looking awkward and uncomfortable. The current crop of GOP presidential candidates is no exception to this unfortunate phenomenon. While each brings a distinctive "style" to the table, they also fail to convey the authenticity and likeability necessary to truly connect with voters.

Anointed frontrunner Mitt Romney has revamped his Billionaire Boys Club style in favour of a more down-to-earth, jeans-and-t-shirt look in a rather transparent attempt to come across as an average, approachable American. In fact, he has done the complete opposite by donning a foreign attire that he obviously does not feel at ease in.

Sweater-vested Rick Santorum

Unfortunately, Mr. Romney looks as stiff in his dad jeans as the average American would be in Romney's well-tailored (and very expensive) Italian suits. Law school classmates have noted that Romney was always "neater" and more put together than everyone else. So, why doesn't he embrace that natural meticulousness in order to connect with potential constituents in a substantial way? Meticulousness and success can be spun just as positively as mediocrity. If anything, the "simple man" farce draws more attention to the fact that he is an immensely wealthy man pretending to be middle-class, than if he were to simply wear the suits he has relegated to formal debates day in and day out. Besides, that perfectly coiffed Ken-doll hair (does he get it cut every day?) is a complete give away.

Surprising up-and-comer Rick Santorum has made quite the sartorial name for himself by sporting his signature, poorly-fitted sweater vests. Partial as he is to a very young, prep-school look, perhaps the ill-fitting vests are Santorum's attempt to mask his inappropriately sloppy khakis and crewnecks with wise grandfatherly knits. Ironically, he has attempted to shirk some of his liberal arts, frat-boy look and Romney-ise himself for debates by wearing sleek grey suits and rich silk ties. However, it only confuses his message: is he a conservative college boy in arrested development, or a wannabe tycoon in training? The mixed messages conveyed by Santorum's style amount to a convincing argument for a lack of confidence. Ill-at-ease in either mold, Santorum seems to be someone who has not found his own voice - which might explain his stubborn adherence to old-fashioned political convictions, no matter the circumstance.

Newt Gingrich

On the other hand, perpetual bridesmaid Newt Gingrich does not have the same identity problem as his running mates. Unfortunately, he seems to have a certain and consistent idea of who he is - one that doesn't seem to have evolved much past his heyday as Speaker of the House (and consummate Clinton Inquisitor) in the 1990's.

Before his numerous marital misdeeds were aired and he was able to skewer Bill Clinton with seemingly moral (self-) righteousness, Gingrich was a paragon of 1990's white, upper class male style. Baggy pleated pants? Check. Vertical stripes? Check. Ruffled conservative hair cut? Check. Not much has changed in 2012. In a way, Gingrich may be the most convincing display of conservatism out of all the candidates - nary an ounce of sartorial change, even as a viable candidate in the midst of a presidential election campaign. In many more ways, this suggests a man that may be out of touch not only with the average American, but also with most Americans in this century.

And then there was one - Ron Paul. There's an elephant in the room when it comes to Paul's style and that elephant might want to borrow his very, very large suits. Some postulate that Paul's extra-large jackets serve to bulk up his diminutive frame but, surely, there must be a better way to do so (Michael Cera's muscle suit in Arrested Development comes to mind). Nonetheless, Paul's style is the biggest conundrum and may very well be meant, simply, to convey his outsider status. As a libertarian, he has made it clear that he doesn't mean to play by the established rules, and perhaps the oversized suit is but one in a series of protests.

Ron Paul's very large suit

Of course, presumptive Democratic nominee President Barack Obama does not fare that much better on the sartorial scale. However, there is one important difference. Whether wearing dad jeans like Romney, or clean, tailored (but not too tailored) power suits, Obama always comes across utterly at ease. Though too much at ease for some, there is no denying that Obama stands out on the political landscape, in part, because of an innate sense of style that comes from being comfortable in his own skin.

In today's especially contentious and tumultuous times, it might behoove the GOP candidates to take some style cues from their main adversary if only to seriously convince Americans (and the world) of their potential ability to lead with deftness and (warranted) confidence.



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