Matching blue suits: failing the test of presidential leadership.


Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 27, 2016.

Commentators everywhere were amazed by the fact that Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wore similar shades of blue at a campaign event last week in Cincinnati.  (Actually, I’d say Clinton’s suit was periwinkle, and it’s obvious that Warren is wearing only a blue jacket, not a suit.)

Nevertheless, we should consider the role of fashion choices in this election season.  After all, the choices our candidates make now are an indication of the looks we’ll have to see for the next four to eight years after the election.  My expertise in American history, women’s history, and the history of clothing makes me the perfect analyst of this important political question, It’s my patriotic duty this glorious Independence Day to share with you the results of my years of long study and reflection, plus 5 minutes of using Google images to look up photos of the presidents and vice-presidents of the last 5 administrations.

Prepare to be amazed, friends, by the results:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Barack Obama and Joe Biden

As you will see, the successful males of the species Homo Politicus take great care to dress and groom themselves individually and uniquely.  It’s an important symbol of their power and prestige as dominant males.  (The stripes slant the opposite ways–see?  It’s a subtle but incredibly important difference.)


George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

It’s not just Democrats; Republicans too are very careful to wear distinguishing costumes and accessories.  President George Bush’s tie clearly shades towards severe gunmetal, while his Vice President wears powder blue, in a display of deference to his commander-in-chief.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore

Bill Clinton and Al Gore

Going back into the 1990s, we can see that the staffs of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore also took care to ensure that their candidates were clearly distinguishable so as to avoid accusations of matchy-matchy mockery.

bluesuits3Even when they appeared outside of their traditional suitjackets, their clothing was separate and totally distinct, a unique expression of each man’s intimate true self as well as of their policy goals.

George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle

George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle

Of course, Bill Clinton and Gore were only modeling themselves on the administrations of the 1980s:  the staid George Bush I administration and that of the more fashion-forward look of his predecessor and running mate, Ronald Reagan.  Dan Quayle introduced a note of boyish insouciance in his choice of devil-may-care daywear, as you can see in this photo with George H.W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were admired for their careful attention to detail of their fashion choices in the 1980 campaign (as seen here at left) and throughout their administration.  Pity the hapless staffer who failed to plan their suiting and tie choices in coordination with the other man’s advisers!  Permitting either man to show up at a campaign event, a cabinet meeting, or even at their private weekly lunches in anything with even a hint of the other man’s outfit was a firing offense.

Soingé Washington and the political commentariat would never stop chattering if presidents and their vice-presidents failed to coordinate their daywear and eveningwear choices!  Please, ladies, don’t fail this essential test of presidential leadership.


If Americans can’t look to the Oval Office for distinctive style and fashion-forward leadership, I fear for the fate of our republic.

17 thoughts on “Matching blue suits: failing the test of presidential leadership.

  1. This is a heckuva piece of image research if it was done in literally just five minutes on google. I would have choked with that kind of a clock ticking, and gotten some tourist from Sedalia standing next to one of those cardboard Reagan photo-op props. The only thing I see missing here is reference to the weird Reagan era veer into yellow ties throughout the White House and extending across the cabinet. I associate it with key words like 1986, Meese, Iran-Contra, Bork hearings, Oliver Whatsisname?, and a few things like that. It almost seemed as if an executive order had banished Wall Street red to the back of the closet. Then, as quickly as the Style media picked up on it, yellow vanished into the night.

    What went too uncovered for the Cincinnati event (I happen to be partial to the town, the team, and the venue) is that it was held at the Cincinnati Museum Center, which is the re-branded 1930s Union Terminal, the rotunda of which has some spectacular Diego Rivera murals of Depression-era working people. (Most of whom got along fine in matching blue coveralls and thick gray work gloves and brown work shoes). Only the NY _Times_ even mentioned the backdrop, that I saw, and only generically and without much insight as to the art credits or their salience. Amtrak abandoned the terminal in the late ’70s for a freight dock down by the river, and for all I remember would have torn the thing down.

    I have no particular opinion on the Veep-stakes, but if Clinton goes with Warren, I would be fine with it.


  2. Correction: not Diego Rivera as the artist, and some or many of the murals have long since been moved, first to the Greater “Cincinnati” Airport, in Kentucky, and since then somewhere else in town. What did an eight year old kid hopping off an overnight train know about art history; or any history, for that matter? Like I say, research first, then write.


  3. Someone should point out to Pat Caddell that both sets of Bobbsey Twins were female/male. Or perhaps it was a more subtle insult than I credit him having the intelligence to make. I notice Trish Regan didn’t correct him. Perhaps she figured it would cause professional damage to break ranks with a “more distinguished” colleague, or maybe Nan and Bert and Flossie and Freddie were out of vogue with Gen X.

    Based on some other moves in Clinton’s campaign (i.e., The Clinton Campaign Official Woman Card), I anticipate that she and Warren both may decide to a little fun with this. Maybe matching rainbow jackets? I’d pony up another contribution to see that.


    • Wow–you know the Bobsey Twins’s names! I never would have come up with Nan and Bert, but Flossie and Freddie–maybe. I would have had to ask Dr. Google about the older twins’s names.


  4. ICYMI, yesterday Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the only woman in her famous political family ever to hold elective office, wrote a revealing article about her experiences Campaigning and Governing While Female:

    When I first ran for Congress in the mid-1980s, I received unending commentary about my hair, just as Mrs. Clinton has for decades. “Cut it” won out, even though I preferred to wear it longer. My campaign staff insisted I wear stockings even when it was 95 degrees. (I took them off once. Never heard the end of it.)

    The first feature article on me after I was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland criticized me for not wearing rouge (in reality it was there, just faded); the second one castigated me for wearing flats. From then on I wore heels despite the backache they gave me. A former governor criticized my jewelry: “Too many bracelets,” he opined. In another rebuke of my style, a writer called me the “unglamorous Kennedy,” clearly pushing substance to the side.

    She couldn’t win, and I would argue that women still can’t win. I have noticed that the more powerful the women become, the less commentary there is on their appearance. That is, I think there’s more of this kind of stuff regarding women in the House vs. the Senate; Clinton faced more of this eight years ago when she was a Senator only, but since having served as Secretary of State, it seems like she gets less of it this time around. (Or maybe I’m just hopeful that there are some women finding more immunity to these silly conversations about their appearance?) IDK.)

    Read the whole thing. Especially this part, which I found weird but oddly encouraging: “More recently, when I was in a taxi in Knoxville, Tenn., the driver told me how he dreamed of Mrs. Clinton in the White House because she was “so hot.” That was different. It’s not what she usually gets credit for, but I liked it.”


  5. Pingback: If One Standard Is Good, Two Must Be Better | From Pine View Farm

  6. Hah!

    Here’s Robin Givhan (a bit more accepting of the situation, perhaps, than Kennedy Townsend, but equally smart) on the current power uniform for female politicians: .

    As a very late boomer/early Xer, I’ll be interested to see whether the cardigans that Michelle Obama has played a significant role in popularizing become an acceptable alternative to a jacket over time. I have to admit I prefer that option (more packable, less constraining, cheaper, easier to fit), and so will be happy if they do, but the tailored jacket still seems to be de rigueur for academic as well as political formal occasions.


    • I think suits make sense for big-time pols of either sex. They’re an easy, structured uniform that projects power. (I think it’s perhaps related to the similarity to military officers’ uniforms.) Although they are pretty unfashionable now, suits for women like Clinton and Warren make all kinds of sense. Women’s suit jackets like the ones Angela Merkel & Clinton wear–the kinds that cover them from their chins to below their hips, usually with a Nehru-style collar, are even better than men’s suit jackets because it doesn’t matter if the women are just wearing their jammies or a camisole underneath, whereas the men still have to put on a freshly pressed shirt as well.

      Cardigans or softer material tops without the armor of a suitcoat on top just don’t cut it. (I saw that Givhan column last week–will reread to see what she says again. Thanks!)


  7. Plus pantsuits (with jackets) are more comfortable for congressional sit-ins. Cardigans go more with skirts and dresses, and then you have one more thing to worry about while sitting on that hard House or Senate floor.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tangentially-related note for anyone planning to come to the DNC in Philadelphia later this month. The public transit agency, SEPTA, found a big crack in the undercarriage of one of its newest cars in a routine inspection on Friday, and then similar cracks under all of those cars. As of now, one third of the “regional rail” rolling stock is out of service, probably into September. They got through the holiday, but today the commuters returned and I guess it was relative chaos on the trains. This would not directly affect in-town subway and bus routes between the big downtown hotels and the Wells Fargo Center. But any big, tardy, western, territorial states that featured months-long caucus systems marked by chair-throwing riots, and didn’t book their accommodations early, if their delegations are outsourced to places like “Coatesville,” “Hatboro,” or “Tullytown,” might want to, um, I don’t know, worry. I rode one of those lines for years, which even on a good day was slower than my dot matrix printer of that era. I even nicknamed the printer “R-5: Doylestown Local.” Glad that I’m in-town and on foot now, mostly.


  9. lol! This reminds me of The Devil Wears Prada: “But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean.” I could not find the article just now but a few years ago some fashion person- I want to say Grace Coddington in a WSJ interview- said of then Secretary of State Clinton that she “didn’t have an inner fashionista trying to get out.” I’ll also note that nobody marked that Justin Trudeau was at the Pride parade wearing white jeans and a pink linen shirt, they were just amazed that he was cool enough to go to Pride.


  10. Perfect and true. Given the amount of criticism that HRC and indeed all women in politics (and elsewhere, to be honest) get for their outfits, she ought to show up in a suit of armor, like Joan of Arc, and give them something to talk about.

    Liked by 1 person

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