Primary colors: How style affects the presidential candidates’ image

With Super Tuesday just two days away, all eyes are on the GOP presidential contenders’ every move, and on President Barack Obama’s as well.

The stakes are high for these men, and, in general, their personal and professional lives have been analyzed, inspected and criticized.

What has been enjoyable (really) for me to explore is how the politicians have dressed throughout the campaign.

I talked to three area image experts, and they agree Obama and the four Republican candidates — Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — overall are picking winning colors ,such as navy blue and red in their ties, for instance, and dark charcoal or navy suits. These hues signify authority, success and intelligence.

There is nothing capricious in the candidates’ attire — whether they are facing off in debates, interviewing with the media or doing meet and greets along the campaign trail.

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To be sure, the advisers note, the men probably have professional stylists planning every element of their wardrobes.

“The sartorial front we have all seen by the candidates indicates a clear purpose and well-thought-out decisions behind their entire ensembles,” says Sara Priest, a Dayton-based managing partner with J. Hilburn, a custom menswear company based in Dallas.

Certainly all the candidates have to walk that fine line between looking “too rich” and appearing pedestrian or, worse yet, sloppy.

There is immeasurable truth in the adage you don’t get a second chance in making a first impression. “The first look is what sums it up for a lot of folks,” explains Jennifer Howard of Dayton, who is certified through the Association of Image Consultants International and is also a small business coach.

Priest’s theory: “Don’t dress to impress; and don’t dress to offend.”

Adds Sandra Dilley, a Dayton-based image consultant: “All of these men are well-tailored and guided in their choices of wardrobe and color.”

Here is a glance at each of the presidential candidates, what they do right in the style arena, missteps to avoid, and how area men can emulate their style:

Barack Obama

The experts agree the president has all the right moves when it comes to fashion and posturing.

“He carries himself well,” says Howard. “And his grooming is impeccable ... flawless, really.”

Women’s Wear Daily has written: “His fashion choices are radically chic yet subtle — the perfect balance of elegance and confidence.”

Dilley agrees with this assessment: “His confidence and attractiveness add to this even more and are key ingredients to what makes his style work.”

Also a plus for the president is he is fit and takes good care of himself, Howard says.

For men: Take Obama’s lead and find a tailor who can tweak off-the-rack suits. A carefully placed stitch here or there can turn an ordinary suit into a fabulous career ensemble, according to the women.

Newt Gingrich

For men with a build more like Gingrich, the image advisers stress the importance of properly fitting attire.

The women say of all the presidential candidates, he is most likely the most challenging to fit.

It’s vital he doesn’t wear suits too tight – or too loose.

His color choices are wonderful for his skin tone.

“Gingrich is conservative and tailored all the way,” observes Dilley. “We usually see him in a suit. His choices in color almost always fall in the red, white and blue, patriotic looks and themes to make him come across as All-American ... a very strong message to the voters.”

And he does have good hair, the women point out.

For men: Priest recommends larger men opt for vertical stripes in their suiting to create a more slender look.

Ron Paul

The women note Paul projects a grandfatherly image; he appears trustworthy. Like Gingrich, Dilley says, he leans toward a highly patriotic palette (red, white and blue) in his fashion choices.

The women feel the Texas congressman mostly gets it “right” with his suits, but he sometimes can be seen in suits that are too simply too big.

For men: Don’t forget shoes are part of the total image package.

“Shoes need to coordinate well with the color of the suit,” says Dilley. “Moreover, they need to be polished and current.”

Mitt Romney

The former Massachusetts governor is “very dashing, he really is,” says Howard, and his professional look is exquisite. Although Romney most likely has custom-made suits, she surmises, he is careful to wear less expensive suits during the debates, for instance, to maintain a level of approachability.

“Romney leans toward Obama’s style of chic and suave,” Dilley says. “Moreover, he — like Obama — uses the less tailored look at times such as a button-down shirt, slacks and sleeves even rolled up while on the campaign trail.”

This look is “appealing more to the younger demographic of voters,” adds Dilley.

For men: For success, emulate Romney’s attention to sartorial detail. Jeans are OK — just be sure they are classic. Trendy jean treatments (think acid wash, for instance, or the ripped look) are not appropriate if you wish to command respect.

(Romney reportedly wears Gap jeans.)

“I absolutely agree with the open-collar shirt, however, I would not advise rolling the cuff back,” says Priest.

“These are presidential candidates, and they do not need to roll to imply that they are the same as the general public.”

Rick Santorum

No matter what the outcome of this year’s presidential race, Santorum most likely will be remembered as the man in the vest.

The former Pennsylvania senator sports a collegiate, All-American style, the consultants note, that makes him appear accessible and in touch with his constituents.

For men: Go casual, when appropriate, but keep in mind a neatly pressed shirt needs to be worn under a sweater vest, according to the consultants.

They give two thumbs up to the layered look.

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