Political Candidates Dress Strategy

I wanted to take a few minutes to comment on the attire of the U.S. political candidates’ attire on Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate. As I strongly believe in the power of image–using one’s clothing and image to convey messages that one wouldn’t normally say out loud, hopefully you can pick up some pointers that might help you with your success.

I want to preface these comments by saying that with the fate of our nation in these candidates’ hands, image shouldn’t be on the forefront of their minds. They have image consultants (or should) to think about and advise them on these matters. And image alone isn’t going to ensure success to anyone, however a successful image only helps. It never hurts!

I hadn’t really paid attention to what the candidates were wearing until the Democrats came on and my husband commented on Bill Richardson, “He looks rumpled!” It’s true that his clothing looked a touch disheveled. While he was an extremely credible candidate, the rumpled suit could have been sending out non-verbal messages that he doesn’t pay attention to detail and that he’s unprepared. His image advisor should have made sure that all of his clothing fits perfectly!
John Edwards looked like a million bucks! I did notice that all of the candidates were wearing black suits and Edwards’ suit was beautiful and could not have fit him better. He was wearing the requisite white shirt. Black and white is the strongest contrast possible, an indication of ultimate authority. And lastly, he wore the blue tie, as did most of the others on stage. Blue is a color that indicates loyalty and trustworthiness. Of course no candidate is going to look credible standing up verbalizing these statements; however, it’s important for their clothing to do it for them.
Barack Obama took a risk! He stood out wearing a red tie. Red is psychologically perceived as a power color that evokes strong emotion, creating excitement and intensity. I thought the red tie was a great choice. It showed he had the confidence to do something different. Also, and this is just a personal opinion, I find Barack to be a bit monotone when speaking, so the red only helps him make his case.
Last but not least, we have Hillary. As sharp as she is, she made several mistakes with her image. Luckily, she went with the black suit per status quo. I find it interesting that her suit appeared to be the darkest shade of black on the stage. (It wasn’t really a positive or a negative and probably something only an image consultant would pick up on. I’m sure it was just a matter of the fiber content and the weave of the suit that made it appear so dark.)
The biggest problem I had with her attire was the shamrock green top. Not white, not red, not blue, but green? What was she thinking? Admittedly, it was a strong contrast against the black, but green is usually associated with nature, purity and tranquility. Furthermore, the pure shade she wore is not traditionally appropriate for business. Shouldn’t she be going for power? I know that she’s been accused of being too harsh, but wearing bright green was not the right way to counteract the perception.
The next mistake Hillary made was wearing a rounded, jewel neckline that actually had a T-shirt feel to it. It did absolutely nothing for her. In such an important appearance, the fabric of the sweater and the round neckline simply appeared too soft and casual. While I don’t believe that women have to lose their femininity and look just like men, Hillary should have opted for a blouse with a pointed collar. The firm fabric of a blouse and the angularity of a collar would offset the beginning of lack of tone in her neck. I know this sounds picky, but in a tough race amongst men, she could gain more authority and credibility by the status quo of a collar. The fact of the matter is that it’s a non-issue among men, because they always wear a tradition shirt with a collar.
The last mistake Hillary made was with her necklaces. They were too close to the neckline of the sweater. And because it appeared she was wearing several necklaces, the way they laid appeared a bit messy and distracting. She could have gained a more powerful look by wearing a longer, bold, single chain with a strong pendant on it. Even a strand of traditional pearls would have sent out a stronger message.
Truly, none of the candidates will be elected because of what they wear or don’t wear along the campaign trail, but in the biggest race of their lives, making sure that what they’re wearing is appropriate at all times can only strengthen their message and free up their minds for the real issues at hand.

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