Mark Twain once commented that it was the clothes that made a man. On the campaign trail in the United States this is especially true and it was widely considered to be the case with the 2008 elections.
As such, fashion has always played a specific role in politics; for the electoral candidate, the most insignificant fashion faux pas could see them ridiculed for weeks in the media. On the upside, a good fashion sense can play an important part in political success, and getting the right look can stand in your favour in winning over huge numbers of undecided voters.
While John McCain and Barack Obama both typically wore suits and ties for the majority of the season, Obama set himself apart with his modern, yet refreshingly simple look.
So what is the typical Obama look? Although he played with a few different styles throughout the political campaign, the classic look consisted of a single-breasted, dark, two-button worsted wool suit – this was often worn with a white dress shirt and a dynamic red tie.
Occasionally, especially in slightly less formal debates Obama would opt for a blue tie, in addition to removing his jacket and rolling up the sleeves. When contrasted against McCain’s formal look, this roll-up your sleeves approach to fashion sent a symbolic, down to earth message that made Obama look like the more dynamic, energetic and vibrant candidate.
Obama’s choice of tailors was also important. All of his suits were custom-made through popular Chicago-based tailors – Hartmarx – which was key to highlighting his decision to support American businesses, especially those close to home. Michelle Obama was also very vocal in her choice and promotion of young, American designers.
In reality, Obama’s look reflects his hands-on approach to his whole political campaign, which was reflected in his remarkable inauguration speech. Since he is fighting for the average American, Obama uses his image and fashion sense as a way to further communicate his agenda.
Indeed, it is important that voters feel that you are concentrating your efforts on the issues rather than your appearance. In 2004, Senator John Edwards made this mistake thanks to a leaked video which showed him in a weak moment of vanity in front of the mirror. The video is said to have played a major part in his defeat.
What’s more, Obama’s use of fashion has often been compared to that of John F. Kennedy. Before Kennedy, it was typical for candidates to wear a hat on their inauguration. Once Kennedy broke the mould, men across America stopped wearing hats to work. Therefore, when it comes to winning an election, the choice of men’s suit and general fashion choices are clearly important for many varied reasons – overt and subtle.