The Fashion of Politics

As the country watched the entrance of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the first presidential debate, everyone’s attention was immediately drawn to Hillary’s vibrant red Ralph Lauren pantsuit. As many of these viewers took in Hillary’s crimson outfit, they were completely unaware of the amount of time and decision making that went into its preparation. Although many people may not realize it, fashion plays a large role in the way we view our political leaders, and much thought and money goes into the appearances of those working in politics.

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Almost every politician has a signature look that sets them apart from others in the eyes of the American people. For Sarah Palin it was her rimless glasses and beehive bun, for Hillary Clinton it’s her infamous pantsuits and shoulder length blond hair, and for Rick Santorum it was his vast collection of sweater vests. These distinctive style characteristics do more than just make these political leaders easily recognizable; they are used as a tool to convey a politician’s personality and values to the public. Aspects such as the color of a shirt or the cut of a dress can send many different messages to a candidate’s target group. For example, the bold red that Secretary Clinton wore during the initial debate was viewed by the American public as a sign that she came prepared for “combat,” and the crisp tailoring of Donald Trump’s suit showed the viewing audience that he was dressed the part to participate in the debate.


One of the most important aspects of an outfit is its color; hue has the power to convey certain characteristics about an individual to their target audience. For example, the white and navy suit that Hillary chose for the second debate on October 9th conveyed a sense of positivity, peace, loyalty, and harmony that she hoped would win over American voters. Whether we like to admit it or not, image plays a large role in our opinions of others, especially politicians. Fashion designers, makeup artists, and stylists are an essential part of any campaign team, as one fashion faux pas can have a significant effect on the way people view a politician. A great example of a political fashion choice seen round the world occurred in late August of 2014 when President Obama wore a tan suit to a press briefing. Within minutes #TanSuit began to trend on Twitter with people even creating new Twitter handles such as @BarackTanSuit and @ObamaTanSuit. It was incredible how simply by wearing an unconventional outfit, the President became a talking point for the next 24 hours. This event shows just how focused our culture is on the looks and clothing of those who we vote into power.

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Whether it’s Jimmy Carter’s cardigan or Senator Elizabeth Warren’s rolled up sleeves, style will always play an integral role in the American political sphere. So next time you turn on your television to see a political figure giving an address, think about what kind of message he or she may want to get across to the public.


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