By Brailey Lisath, Staff Writer
November 9, 2012
At the third and final 2012 presidential debate, though their political views couldn’t be anymore different, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney still had a single shred of uniformity: their appearances. The chosen attire was nearly identical; both candidates wore a plain navy suit, a solid white button-up and an American flag pin. The only slight discrepancy was the tie; Obama wore a blue tie while Romney’s was red and blue striped. It may go unnoticed, or even seem coincidental. However, there is a deeper purpose behind what a politician wears than what meets the eye.
“…There is a clear purpose and conscious decision behind every suit, tie, shirt, or cuff link worn by a politician,” said Jenn Harris of the Los Angeles Times.
In formal circumstances, like a debate or an official speech, the clothing of a politician is intended to be understated; it is essential that their physical appearance does not distract the audience from what they have to say. It is not often that we see our president ditch the dress slacks and tie. It seems like an unwritten dress code that requires a constant portrayal of business.
On his first day of office, President Obama caused uproar by commentators with his attire. He left behind the jacket, and wore only a shirt and tie at his desk in the Oval Office, straying from the tradition laid out by the presidents before him. By leaving behind something as seemingly unimportant as a jacket, Obama received immense amounts of criticism.
“Nothing stokes controversy as much as what a president wears to work. When he first took office last year, Obama caused a sartorial stir. An official photo [showed] him on his first day at work, at his desk in the Oval Office — in shirtsleeves, without a jacket. Commentators went crazy,” explained Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times.
In situations of support or distress, the expectancy of a completed suit changes entirely.
“When it comes to natural or man-made disasters, a less formal look conveys compassion, a roll-up-the-sleeves, I-share-your-pain presence on the scene,” commented Neuman.
To see a politician in his typical attire in the midst of tragedy conveys an impenetrable disconnection between them and the Americans involved.
“All of it is designed to say: We are on the scene, we are working in the grime, we may be politicians and bureaucrats but we care,” Neuman continues.
It is not solely from the politicians themselves that we can expect types of wardrobe uniformity; we can also see it in the attire of their wives, perhaps more critically. In regards to the first ladies of our country, consistent themes have been present in every closet: modesty and femininity. Similar to the way that royal women are seen in Europe, the first lady of the U.S. is a symbol of our nation’s beauty and grace.
“As we are with all first ladies, we are subconsciously invested in her looking good — it’s almost as if there’s some sort of national pride at stake,” said Kate Betts of the New York Times.
Michelle Obama, in many ways, has been held to this subconscious standard. Often she has been criticized for her event-inappropriate attire, specifically in 2010 at a state dinner hosting the Chinese president. She wore a British-designed dress to the event, and was thus seen as not supporting the American garment industry.
In Women’s Wear Daily, Bridget Foley wrote, “To wear something other than American at this particular trade-centric mega-fete embarrasses a major U.S. industry that continues to need all the help it can get.”
Political dress is not something to be overlooked. Without us even realizing it, these public figures are strategically planning every outfit down to the last button in hopes of gaining our approval. The next time you’re watching a politician or his right-hand woman in action, consider the reasoning behind everything they’re wearing.