In US politics, clothes make the man - Monocolumn | Monocle


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23 August 2012

An inevitable stage of election coverage has begun. After arguments concerning his pro-life stance on abortion, Ayn Rand-style capitalist economics and absence of foreign policy experience, the discussion surrounding Paul Ryan’s style of dress has started. From editorials in the Washington Post and the New York Times to comment from across the pond at the Guardian, the Republican vice-presidential nominee’s suit size and shoe choice have become top news.

While those more concerned with his desire to drastically cut public spending or lower corporate tax can find reams of analysis on both, Ryan’s exercise regime and reasoning behind wearing suits that appear too big for him are also up for discussion. And, however frivolous it might seem within the context of a country battling an 8.2% unemployment rate and an enormous budget deficit, the way that our prospective political leaders present themselves shouldn’t be ignored.

Four years ago, the clothing choices of the last Republican vice-presidential candidate filled even more page space than Ryan’s have so far. Seemingly hoisted by the neck of her Patagonia fleece from Alaska, poor old Sarah Palin went through quite the public makeover. Shedding the suburban “soccer mom” image for a neat up do, tailored skirt suits and racy heels, it was reported that Palin and her family were the recipients of around $150,000 from the Republican Party in order to give John McCain’s running mate the Pretty Woman treatment.

Now, it’s unlikely that such a public overhaul will be made with Paul Ryan’s image. Primarily because he’s already a figure of national relevance. A congressman from Wisconsin and the House Budget Committee chairman, the GOP will have a tougher task of rebranding Ryan’s former statements against things like Medicare than they will convincing voters that he knows how to knot a tie.

However, this is a country that still romanticises the glamorous style of JFK Jr and whose current leader has been heralded as the most stylish man in the nation. Some have even attributed part of Hilary Clinton’s rise to power with her decision to upgrade from dowdy looking first lady in the 1990s to a chic international diplomat of the 21st century.

Ryan’s toughest sartorial battle will certainly come on 11 October when he’ll face off with Joe Biden at the vice-presidential debate. Scheduled for a primetime spot, the Wisconsin congressman will be up against arguably the best-dressed man in the Senate. With a reported taste for Ermenegildo Zegna suits and Thomas Pink shirts, it’s clear that Biden knows the benefits of a good tailor. In jackets seemingly two sizes too big and awkward looking cowboy boots, Ryan will have only his well-oiled rhetorical skills to steal the show.

While the next president can rely on a well-groomed secretary of state for diplomatic purposes, as leader of the Senate, a carefully put together vice president wouldn’t go amiss. Sitting behind their leader at every speech the President gives to Congress, the Vice President is often seen more than heard by the American public. And I for one would certainly rather stare at smart suited Joe Biden than goofy rent-a-tux Paul Ryan.


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