Like it or not, image in politics is a major piece of what makes someone electable, and what a political figure wears says a lot about their message. In many ways, there is a sexist history behind this idea, where women in politics have had significantly more scrutiny over what they wear—i.e. Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s “doesn’t look poor” blazer, or Secretary Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits. In other ways, though, people have used this attention to really say something about their respective platforms.
During the 2016 Presidential debate, Clinton wore a white pantsuit. Not only did it contrast Trump’s dark suit, but it was a way to symbolize her role as the first women appointed as a major party’s nominee. If you look back even further, during the first-ever televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960, many credited a part of Kennedy’s win to his fitted look. The outfit conveyed a sense of professionalism and youth, especially compared to Nixon’s dreary, ill-fitting two-piece.
Fast-forward to this week, where an almost sea of candidates in the Democratic primary will be debating—it’s safe to say their outfit choices will be carefully considered. On the campaign trail, Beto O’Rourke has created an image of himself as the laid-back, cool politician, often with the sleeves of his button-up rolled so he looks like he’s getting down and dirty with work. Similarly, Senator Elizabeth Warren often opts out of a traditional matching pantsuit in favor of an all-black look with a brightly colored blazer. It conveys seriousness without the stuffiness, much like her platform. Senator Bernie Sanders usually appears in a fine fitting suit with muted colors and a classic tie. It’s never over the top; never showy, giving him that average-man persona he likes to convey.
Then there are those that go for a traditional political suit but more blatantly share a message through some type of accessory. Senator Kamala Harris, for example, is known for wearing a set of pearls with her outfits; former Vice President Joe Biden often wears his “cool” aviators.
Other candidates who are not polling as well as the aforementioned bunch and arguably have more to prove, like, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have used style to set themselves apart. She often shows her duality as the relatable whiskey-drinking Senator with a big and serious agenda by pairing a structured below-the-knee dress with tall leather boots.
Of course, the serious issues that these politicians are addressing during this election cycle are paramount to their outfits. However, if the candidate wants to show who they are in a crowd of 25, every little choice matters, even a blazer. As we watch the debates on Wednesday and Thursday night, we’re going to be seeing who stands out and what, if any, style moments have people really buzzing.