Improving Campaign Style

Following the theme of my previous post, I was looking for a good way to talk about the declining style of our Presidential candidates (especially this cycle). When I was doing some research, I remembered a column I had read in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago by Joe Queenan.  Mr. Queenan’s piece on campaign style hits the nail on the head. I’ve decided to share it with you– and add some pictures of my own– so enjoy!

PRINTED ORIGINALLY IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

How to Dress Like You Just Might Win

By JOE QUEENAN

I was watching the Georgetown-Notre Dame basketball game Monday night and was struck by how dapper the coaches looked. And not just the coaches, but the assistant coaches. And the assistant-assistant coaches. Fancy shirts. Classy ties. Elegant suits. Colorful little handkerchiefs in their jacket pockets. Hoyas coach John Thompson III, a big man who knows how to wear a suit, looked particularly well turned out.

Then I switched over to Rick Santorum giving a speech somewhere, and he was sporting the usual undone dress shirt, with no tie, with the generic blue-jeans thing going on. Which is basically the same choreographed man-of-the-people look as Mitt Romney, only with more of a J.C. Penney’s twist. The Casual Friday Look. The Would-Be Maverick Look. The Hapless on the Hustings Look. The look that says: I went all the way to K Street and all I got was this lousy shirt.

Romney...without a tie
(Getty Images)

Personally, I think blue jeans on an older man look ridiculous—the French call it vieux jeune homme, which literally means “old young guy”—but that’s a separate issue. I’m also not all that crazy about the sweater vest, which makes you look like you’re running for student council at a college no one has ever heard of. But my real beef is: Would it kill these guys to wear a tie every once in a while? Dress shirts literally scream: Please, please complete me with a tie. Please, please festoon me.

OK, OK, if you’re running your mouth on a beach or in a factory or while attending the Daytona 500, the tieless look is tolerable. Same deal if you’re visiting a swamp or a filling station or the Bronx. But if you’re up there on a dais and there’s a podium right in front of you, and there’s some sense that what you’re saying might be important, could you please put on a dress tie to go with your dress shirt? Or a shirt that doesn’t require a tie? I think they still make these things.

Otherwise, you look like a dink. You’re running for the most important office in the entire world, and here you are dressing like somebody working the night shift at Wal-Mart.

Insiders may counter that Mr. Santorum et al. have ditched the more formal, cravat-bedecked look because people under the age of 25 do not trust men wearing ties. This is true, but people under age 25 don’t vote, so who cares?

Santorum...in...a...sweater.....vest
(GQ Photos)

“You’re seeking the world’s most important office and dressing like you’re working the night shift at Wal-Mart”

By the way, the last person on the campaign trail with any real fashion sense was Michele Bachmann. But she had other issues.

I don’t want to make too much of the fact that basketball coaches dress better than Rick Santorum, but I think that the coaches’ choice in haberdashery underscores an important point. Americans love college basketball, because the kids play so hard, because of the cheerleaders, but also because the coaches convey a sense of authority.

They dress for the occasion. They understand that clothes do make the man, that if you look like a slob, you’ll get treated like a slob. Kids pay attention to men like John Thompson III, not just because of their coaching savvy and because they’re huge and intimidating and can cut them from the team, but because they dress like authority figures. I wear a suit and a tie; you wear shorts and sneakers. I talk; you listen. Clear?

None of this applies to Bobby Knight, of course.

In defense of the candidates, it’s true that they have so far resisted wearing those fake turtle necks with zip-up collars that are so popular this year. Nor have any of them resorted to the pathetic, last-ditch trick of donning leather outfits and straddling Harleys and biking out to meet the common man. And happily, no one has yet gone out on the hustings in a bow tie. Not even Newt. But it’s only March.

Critics will object that Barack Obama regularly appears in public wearing a dress shirt with no tie. This is true, and it is to be deplored. But Barack Obama already has the job the other guys are seeking. Once you get yourself elected president of the United States, you can wear fright wigs and Day-Glo track suits if you want. Moreover, Democrats are expected to dress down, because so many of their constituents are working class and have let their subscriptions to GQ lapse. Republicans, by contrast, are supposed to dress like Republicans. Back where I come from, Republicans wear ties.

A version of this article appeared March 3, 2012, on page C11 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How to Dress Like You Just Might Win.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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