The Casual-Friday Campaign

By Givhan, Robin | Newsweek, August 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Casual-Friday Campaign


Givhan, Robin, Newsweek


Byline: Robin Givhan

Why the 2012 presidential race is banishing suit-and-tie politics.

In the pursuit of the presidency, as candidates make use of every form of communication--including style and its nuanced inflections--the earnest rolling of sleeves and strategic mussing of hair has begun. Stick on the flag pins; buy red ties by the gross; stock up on grandpa polos! The Iowa straw poll is just around the bend.

And yet, just when certain costumes are assured--business suits and serious ties, for instance--along come a couple of prominent Republican candidates with something new to say: Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. Each reflects an evolution of the political species.

Frontrunner Romney, typically polished to a sheen and awkwardly formal, appears to have misplaced all his ties. Even as he confabs with businessmen who have gussied up in a suit and tie for the occasion, Romney sticks to an open-collar aesthetic. As he touts his experience as a job creator, he studiously avoids looking like the quintessential "suit." Romney's style appears to have made an about-face since his last foray into presidential politics--from that of the guy who mercilessly hands out pink slips to, well, one who at least apologizes as he tells you to clean out your workspace.

The transformation acknowledges voters' demand that candidates prove they are empathetic, regular Joes. And Romney, a multimillionaire, has a lot of proving to do. So instead of stumping for votes dressed for the rarefied job he wants, he looks like a middle manager at the company picnic.

Is this what "looking presidential" now means? Perhaps so.

The last candidate to notably eschew the four-in-hand was President Obama. He favored an open-collar shirt and black suit, which reassured the establishment and satisfied the grassroots. The style had Ebony, Vibe, and Paper swooning over the candidate's "cool" factor. While competitors made speeches trussed up in institutional power, Obama telegraphed a complicated statement about cultural savvy. At last, a candidate was effortlessly casual without flannel shirts, mock turtlenecks, sweater vests, and other fashion pretensions.

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