The Fashion Whip: GOP Debate Style: A Spotter’s Guide To The Best and Worst of 2012

Fashion Whip is a political style column in the Huffington Post by fashion stylist Lauren Rothman and HuffPost reporter Christina Wilkie inspired by Lauren’s experience at Styleauteur, the firm she founded.

WASHINGTON — Much has been made of women’s clothing on the campaign trail, but men face just as many potential style hazards. During Wednesday night’s GOP debate at the Reagan Library, subtle clothing choices could help convey a male candidate’s authority before he even opens his mouth. Poor style choices could leave voters wondering why he looked “off,” even if they can’t pinpoint exactly why. And while Michele Bachmann’s style may be the most talked about of the GOP field, the party’s male presidential hopefuls have made their share of fashion faux pas.

Wednesday night will mark the first time that the dashing, if slightly over-dressed, Rick Perry joins the stage. Even given Perry’s flair for the dramatic, viewers can expect the men to be wearing some version of the political uniform across the board: dark suit, white shirt, neutral tie. But if prior debates are any indication, there will be plenty of variety on display among the ‘gents — ranging from dapper to downright schlubby.

Consider, for example, the colossal failure of fit showcased by nearly every male participant in the August GOP debate in Iowa. Shoulders looked heavy or overly padded on some candidates, and sagging on others. Jackets jutted out beyond the true shoulder and necks seemed to disappear; triple-pleated pants added pounds, while trousers and sleeves begged for hemming. Of the group, Mitt Romney’s jacket was by far the best fitting — Ron Paul’s collapsed at the shoulder, and Newt Gingrich’s pulled at the buttons. In short, the right fit helped cast one candidate as a broad-backed Atlas and more than one as a struggling Sisyphus.

A Crowded Field: Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are a study in style contrasts at the August debate in Iowa.

Ron Paul’s Big Shoulders: Ron Paul’s jacket had oversize shoulders at the first GOP debate in June. As a result, the six-foot-tall congressman’s head looks smaller than average. Ron Paul’s awkward shoulder padding appears to date back to his 2008 presidential bid, judging by this debate photo. Again, the padding juts out, causing Paul’s neck and head to look smaller.

Santorum’s Pleat Problem: One of the younger GOP candidates, Rick Santorum would do well to lose a few pleats from his trousers. Contrary to the old wives’ tale, they don’t camouflage a person’s midsection, only emphasize it, as they did for Santorum.

Herman Cain Wears His Outsider Status: In his double-breasted suit and yellow tie, pizza entrepreneur Herman Cain has staked out style territory for himself that’s well beyond the single-breasted-suit-and-red-or-blue-tie of traditional politics. This is likely a political calculation itself: At the August debate, Cain’s ensemble stood out amidst a field of seasoned politicians.

Cain on Repeat: Of course, the whole “dressing differently” thing can get a little tiring in Herman Cain’s case, given that he wore the same suit with a gold tie to the June debate, the August debate, and this week’s forum in South Carolina. If he wears it again on Wednesday, he’ll start looking silly.

Gingrich’s Button Trouble: There’s no nice way to say this, but Newt Gingrich needs to let his jackets out. At the June debate, his center button pulled and creased, even with his arms at his sides.

Rick Perry’s Texas Bling: Rick Perry bucked political tradition when he announced his candidacy for president last month wearing loud cufflinks, a monogrammed French-cuff shirt, and a bucket of bling on his left hand. But don’t expect to see all this at once on the campaign trail: The shiny watch, stacked rings and flashy cufflinks might prove a little much for the GOP electorate.

Rick Perry Cuffed and Armed: It’s not every man who can rock cuff links with a gun — sometimes it’s Al Pacino, other times, it’s Rick Perry. This 2010 photo-op highlighted Perry’s athletic-cut suit, too.

The Brooks Brothers: Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman, Jr. may be the best dressers in the GOP field, but they’re also the most predictable. Expect them to look exactly the same as usual for Wednesday’s debate, with the possible addition of American flag lapel pins perched upon staggeringly expensive suits.





A Crowded Field

Ron Paul’s Big Shoulders

Santorum’s Pleat Problem

Herman Cain Wears His Outsider Status

Cain on Repeat

Gingrich’s Button Trouble

Rick Perry’s Texas Bling

Rick Perry: Cuffed and Armed

The Brooks Brothers