Clothes-minded—February 19, 2008

By Allison Cassing

When John Edwards got his haircut for $400, we all heard about it. But if he let his hair go wild, à la Jack Sparrow, there would be a big hoopla as well. How can we entrust power to someone who can’t even take care of his own follicles? A candidate’s clothes can have the same effect. Though I am not a huge political junkie, I do enjoy the spectacle of the campaigns. I am not completely removed from the system—I did try to vote in the last election (note: you cannot FedEx your absentee ballot—it must be sent via USPS) and I don’t pick candidates based on dress, though I do pick NCAA tournament champions in that way. The campaigns for the primaries have given us all the chance to see how politicians present themselves to the American public through their words, gestures, and wardrobe. Taking on the role of clothes interpreter, I’ve looked at the fashions of John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama to see what they are trying to say and what we are hearing.

Blue button-downs seem to be McCain’s thing. Whereas others opt for plain white, Senator McCain enjoys a color with more individual flair. Maybe it’s the way it goes with his hair or the blue-on-blue tie and shirt combination, but there is no doubt McCain is singing the fashion blues. By adding a blue or red tie and slipping on a jacket, he is ready to hit the trail. When showing more of his creative side, McCain will swap out the safe ties for a cheerier hue, usually orange or yellow, and he may even layer on a sweater beneath his jacket. One of my favorite such looks is Harry Potter–McCain, when the senator sported his requisite blue shirt with a red patterned tie, tucked into a gray v-neck sweater—all beneath a black robe/jacket—at a “town meeting” in East Greenwich, RI. Along with his trademark blue shirt, McCain’s wardrobe follows suit quite literally. His looks are traditional politico wear, but he also knows how to mix it up and be a bit playful. From his blushing tie, it’s clear that McCain’s got a rosy outlook for his campaign.

Being the only woman in the mix makes Clinton an interesting candidate to watch. Hillary’s wardrobe strikes a careful balance between color and power. Raised collars seem to be one trend Clinton has latched onto. This fashion feature is a strong statement that doesn’t overwhelm her outfits. I especially adore the chic high-collared white jacket with eyelet trim Clinton wore at the Sheraton in New York. Tending to stay away from somber colors, she opts for a rainbow of light blues, corals, yellows, and pinks. Her campaign trail closet presents an image of power, but not in an intimidating way. Clinton used to get a lot of flack for her clothing choices, but over time her dress has come to be smart and tasteful (though there is that leopard-print gala dress to debate). And while I hope she’s done away with her ’90s fabric headbands, I still get excited to see what Hillary will break out next.

On the cover of Men’s Vogue, Obama donned a crisp white shirt and light blue striped tie, pieces that have become mainstays in this presidential hopeful’s closet. Also gracing the front of Vibe, GQ, and Time, Obama’s face is no stranger to the newsstands. And what is a cover boy without personal style? Obama’s uniform breaks down to a black two-button suit, white shirt, red or blue tie, and that certain Barack flair. Going casual in khakis and a tucked-in button-down, his look is laid-back, but polished. There’s a bit of Americana in Obama’s fashion choices. With his picnic khakis paired with a red, white, and blue palette, the Obama Collection is definitely channeling national pride. If we haven’t all gotten the American vibe from him yet, I fear only denim overalls could sway the remainder.

Dressing for the campaign trail is no small feat. Missteps can be serious and will no doubt be plastered all over network television and mocked for weeks. But this election’s hopefuls seem to have their daily wardrobe down. Preparing for victory, McCain, Clinton, and Obama have all assembled their armor to compete for the presidency. The name of the game is to wear your image on your sleeve and, if so inclined, your monthly rent in your haircut.