Apologies to grandmas almost everywhere: Joe Biden, even in his favorite slim navy polo, is nobody’s design icon. Neither, it goes without expressing, is Donald Trump. The 2020 presidential race’s concerted lack of fashion may well advise that there is no home in politics for expressive clothing—that when even the smallest gaffe receives memed into oblivion, there is merely also a lot threat in dressing up.
But new background implies that particular design and style does not have to be a political liability. And as a loaded vein of campaigners reveals, the suitable sartorial transfer can say much more about a campaign than even the most soaring speech.
The Kennedys wore Ivy-approved two-button suits like the strivers they ended up, ties askew as if to emphasize their relentless do the job ethic. George H.W. Bush’s seersucker fits, thigh-baring jogging shorts, and self-effacing tees proved him funnier than your average stuffed shirt. Whilst running for the Democratic nomination in 1984, Jesse Jackson traded in his striped shirts for 3-piece fits and their accompanying expert sheen. And Ronald Reagan wore ranch-all set boot-slice jeans that glimpse filched from a Hollywood costume closet. None of these guys dressed with plentiful self-expression, but they didn’t run from it, both.
And it was not just the candidates who weaponized their closets. James Carville, Invoice Clinton’s legendary campaign supervisor, was probably best acknowledged for his aphorisms (“It’s the economic climate, stupid”), but his outfits served converse his method. He had a uniform: a colourful rugby shirt or a blue oxford, tee peeking out sneakers or loafers stick-straight blue-sky jeans. He is the picture of go-go world-wide optimism, a sartorial Third Way incarnate. Clinton’s have apparel broadcast Everyman approachability: Arkansas sweatshirts, Timex watches, the occasional McDonald’s cup. But he could gown up too—a louche double-breasted go well with confirmed him prepared for a G8 summit.
These days we have a mounted impression of Barack Obama, the new-period statesman in a no-frills navy accommodate. But when he ran for Senate in 2004, he did so in a billowing quick-sleeve shirt, quite a few-pleated khakis, and a belt-holstered mobile mobile phone. He did not appear like a upcoming chief of the cost-free planet. Rather, he broadcast a far more relatable concept: that while he may possibly be a generationally proficient politician, he was also just like you, at the very least in the undesirable-khakis office. Even presidents, it turns out, place their pleated trousers on one leg at a time.
Sam Schube is GQ’s senior editor.
A version of this story initially appears in the November 2020 concern with the title “When They Go Minimal, We Go Fly.”