In part two of his look at the '08 presidential field, Glenn O'Brien ponders the style problems of the Democratic Party.
Joe Biden looks senatorial, which is even better, I suppose, than looking presidential. Even though his campaign chests are empty, he looks like his personal coffers are loaded.
Obviously the man employs a tailor. His fine clothes fit him perfectly. No off-the-rack sack suits for Senator Biden. Look at his jackets—trim and fitted with no gapping at the collar. He shows just the right amount of cuff, and his shirt collars lie perfectly on his neck. His linen is always crisp and snowy white. His ties are never too fat. His knot is always perfect. He can wear a double-breasted suit or a tab collar shirt.
Any CEO could take some tips from Biden's style. He's not exactly just-plain-folks. In fact, Biden may look a little too bespoke for a White House run. Still, there's something likeable about him, and I'm hoping for Secretary of State Biden. It's about time we had a statesman who, when he puts his foot in his mouth, it at least has a Berluti shoe on it.
Writing about Hillary Clinton's style as a candidate is a little apples and oranges, but then she's the only orange we've had since Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic VP candidate of 1984. Besides, there are many similarities between what works for a male candidate and a female candidate.
One of Mrs. Clinton's problems has been a lack of consistency. Of course, it's easier for men than women when it comes to dressing for office. Men can just wear the suit. A woman who just wore the suit in the Senate is liable to be labeled a lesbian, which is just the sort of image the former first lady is trying to avoid. Women almost have to wear color and dress with versatility, and it's easy to attack them for it. Nancy Pelosi was scourged for wearing red, and recently The Washington Post, of all outlets, took Hillary to task for allegedly showing cleavage in the Senate. It's no fault of hers. It runs in the family. Bill showed cleavage in the Capitol too, at the height of his chowhound Presidency.
There aren't too many positive role models for women politicians. Margaret Thatcher was positively upholstered, looking like a banquette in a tea room. As President of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto dressed like a compromise between the Blessed Virgin and Greek singer Nana. As far as I can tell, about the only female head of state to get it right is German chancellor Angela Merkel. She dresses very plainly and demurely, but with a feminine sense of color, and discreet pearls.
But her taste and discretion wasn't enough to repel amateur chiropractor George W. Bush from mugging her, and that shows just how tough it is for a lady head of state to strike that perfect balance of attractiveness and authority.
As First Lady Mrs. Clinton often dressed grotesquely and in the very worst of taste, but adding that 'Senator' to her name seems to have transformed her somewhat. These days she often looks smart and dignified (well, at least her clothes do) by keeping it simple.
Stylistically, Mrs. Clinton's great challenge is to try to nip her tendency to make monstrous faces while mugging for crowds and cameras. It's as if she had the silent film version of Tourette's Syndrome.
Combined with her strident, abrasive voice and staccato, almost random accenting of syllables in public speeches, her body language tics make an intelligent and able politician appear unsympathetic. Never has their been a better argument for deadpan. Her body language is one case where less would be much, much more. In fact, were I Hillary's style consultant, I would explore the possibility of loading her face with Botox until she is capable of only the most minimal smiles. Save that G-Spot eye-popping for the Lincoln Bedroom.
I would also suggest that she avoid changing hairstyles, or wearing anything that Michael Jackson might also fancy. I would also avoid Victoriana (and especially her Star Trek version of it, exemplified by this high-neck blouse).
I'd rather see her cleavage than imagine what retro-crusade lurks in the heart under all that starch.
Christopher Dodd's main qualification for President is that he has exactly duplicated Tip O'Neill's historic Speaker of the House hairdo. It. That's some thatch of pure white hair. It's so white and fluffy his head looks like somebody put a head on it.
Senator Dodd has a strong face, with cruel, steely, Politburo eyebrows, one eye observantly open, the other skeptically narrowed. He's a big, stocky fellow but he's not obese, at least not when he's standing next to Ted Kennedy, as he often does.
Senator Dodd is very senatorial. You can almost picture him in a toga (though he's 100 percent Irish, which is why he wears a green tie as often as not.)
That green could also stand for bigtime greenbacks, as he was the Golden Leash Award winner in 1998 for the sums he accepted from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other financial firms.
Nevertheless, Dodd strikes this observer as a straightforward guy with an honest, direct manner. He is certainly an intelligent and qualified candidate. He has terrific dignity and carriage for a big old Mick, but he was a handsome youth and has dated Bianca Jagger and Carrie Fisher, so he has the residual confidence of a former face man. Yet he could never be accused of style over substance. Which means he could use a bit of a style update. I'd give him a trim to keep the hair out of his eyes, a blue rinse to prevent yellowing of his white freak flag, and I'd send him to a bespoke tailor. Even big lugs should have suits that fit, and a good tailor could help hide that Guinness gut.
John Edwards is a beauty. There's no other way to say it.
He's got blue eyes, a dimple in his chin, a full head of chestnut hair, and a million-dollar smile. He's 54, so he's no kid, but he looks more like 39, and the only lines in his face are from smiles.
Of course, beauty is always a suspect quality in a man, and to pull it off you have to show that you're also tough and for real. This is why they went after Edwards's haircut and his primping. Ann Coulter called him a "faggot" because only a fag would fuss with his hair for two minutes before going on camera, right? Bush would fuss with it for five seconds and then give the finger. The Republicans knew they could swift-boat Edwards on the hairdo and the fact that he paid $400 to a hairstylist for a haircut (a hairstylist who had to spend an entire day flying to him), because they did the same thing to Bill Clinton in 1993, when he got a $200 haircut from an L.A. stylist named Christophe, while Air Force One was parked at LAX. One only wishes that there existed footage of Giuliani cantilevering his hair from Manhattan to Brooklyn, back in his old mayoral comb-over days.
Anyway, Edwards hasn't underestimated the value of a good shock of hair. It was certainly a factor in JFK's election—as he took over from bald old Ike, defeating greasy kid stuff Nixon. Just as the Beatles began to shake their mops, he let his substantial hair flow in the winds of change, dooming the fedora to extinction.
Anyway, you can't fault Edwards on his appearance. He looks good in a suit, and in shirt sleeves and casual clothes.
He's not faking casual. He's so real I bet he distressed these jeans himself.
He doesn't wear silly hats. The only thing I would do with his casual look is get him into slightly slimmer dress shirts so he can compete with Obama's model-like sleekness.
Quick! Who was the last president with a moustache? Well, Mike Gravel doesn't have a 'stache anymore. Undoubtedly he caved to advisers who told him some people think it makes a man look shifty, as if he had something to hide. But it wasn't long ago that he sported a fur soup strainer rather like that hideous growth between John Bolton's pie hole and snuff ports. That moustache actually made him look a little more superficially interesting. And Mike is more than superficially interesting. He's the real deal.
And he's no city slicker. Gravel dresses like a suburban shop teacher—sometimes slightly bohemian, like the dark gray tie over the dark gray shirt under the gray suit he's wearing above.
The one-time Walter Matthau look-alike no longer has the sharp features of his youth, and he's gotten a little dumpy. Nothing that couldn't be improved by staying away from severe colors like black and wearing fuddy-duddy sweaters under his jacket. I know it's cold in Alaska, but get some silk long johns, Mike, or go all the way with an Irish fisherman's sweater. If I were advising Mr. Gravel I'd suggest he lose the tie. He has lousy ties, and in the debates this unpredictable candidate tends to wear the predictable red one. Tieless, he gives off an almost socialist vibe.
Be the Alaskan you are, Mike. Embrace the flannel! Wear the mukluk! By the way, the last President with a moustache was William Howard Taft.
It's important to mock Dennis Kucinich's atypical appearance because he makes so much sense that if people thought he wasn't a kook or a nerd they might elect him and not the same old, same old we seem destined to have foisted on us.
I have to admit that I love Kucinich. He's my man. He speaks the truth, and doesn't pander, and he makes more sense than anybody in the run, with the possible exception of Republican Heretic Ron Paul (and Mike Gravel on a good day.) But he's a Vegan! And he's short! Pixie short. And he looks like Alfred E. Newman! Okay, these things are true. Nevertheless, the man is right about nearly everything, and he's honest. Still, I guess people want someone who looks like what central casting thinks a president should look like. (Didn't Republican Central Casting give us Fred Thompson?) I don't know why Harrison Ford doesn't run. He's the guy Hollywood thinks looks most like a President. Hey, here's an idea: Ford/Kucinich. It could be the Dems' answer to Bush/Cheney. A body in front and a brain in the back.
Unfortunately Mr. Kucinich is not a visual guy.
In group photos he's the one with his eyes closed. He's about as into clothes as Ralph Nader, who became stylish by accident when his retro skinny ties and lapels came back in style twenty years later. It wasn't long ago that Dennis looked like his wardrobe came from K-Mart (no doubt he boycotts Wal-Mart) but he has sharpened himself up some. He's no fool. He knows you have to wear suits and ties, and then sometimes you have to get out there in shirt sleeves. But he is not a natty, self-conscious, and possibly narcissistic dresser like Mr. Biden, Mr. Edwards, or Mr. Obama. He dresses dutifully, and sometimes his lack of savoir faire is endearing, as when he wears those plaid shirts. (Salvation Army?)
If I were advising Kucinich I would put him in dark suits and white shirts and dark narrow ties. Actually, I would dress him exactly like Ralph Nader. His haircut is fairly important, because his ears give him a distinctively elfin appearance. This is not all bad, as elves are empowered to grant wishes, but if his ears look too pointy he tends to look extraterrestrial—possibly Vulcan, like Mr. Spock, with whom he shares a fondness for logic.
Because he's trim he looks good in his shirt sleeves, but he should avoid the traditional baggy shirts and wear them slim enough to show that he's wiry strong, not a bag of bones.
I'd put him in slim suits with flat-front pants and narrow lapels, like Dior. Maybe the new Brooks Brothers Black Fleece collection by Thom Browne would suit this candidate's style. As long as he doesn't show sock. Or Michael Bastian. Jeez, if only New York designers got involved maybe we could have a smart president.
How can you not like Barack Obama? He gets you at hello. That radiant smile; that long, lean profile; that quiet dynamism. That Camelot preppie chic. He's almost too stylish, or let's say he's almost too Kennedy-esque.
Of course, high style worked for Kennedy. He made "charisma" a household word. Style is what got him elected. The cool breezy glamour of Kennedy trumped the sweaty five o'clock shadow and scripted delivery of Tricky Dick Nixon. And now Obama brings a similarly modernist gleam to this crucial race. While Hillary brays at stentorian volume and Biden turns on the old-school power moves, Obama sets just the right tone and volume for today. He speaks with cool, measured reason in a network-quality deep baritone, making serene, steady eye contact and using JFK-like hand signals. Watching him in the debates, the hand signals were almost eerily similar to Jack Kennedy's, and this candidate, self-consciously or not, presents the same youthful vigor and charm that made Jackie's husband the idol and hope of millions.
And in his magnetic speaking manner and slick but disciplined appearance he is eerily reminiscent of the great Malcolm X. At least he avoids glasses and bow ties, so as not to appear too Islamic, which he must avoid since his middle name is Hussein and he's one letter away from Osama. My only tip would be to further distance himself from the Nation of Islam look (and avoid that appearance of almost manorexic skinniness) by wearing some cable-knit crewnecks, cashmere v-necks, or letter-sweater-like cardigans. A relaxed look would add another dimension to his style.
Who is Bill Richardson's style guru? Lou Costello? Carlos Mencia? John Belushi? Pablo Escobar? The former Governor of New Mexico and Secretary of Energy (isn't that a great title?) is three-quarters Mexican and all-American. He has an attractive personality, and a good sense of humor, and he's great on the issues. He'd probably make a terrific president, but he needs to upgrade his presidential style. He looks more like the president of Midas Muffler or Pizza Hut than of the U.S. of A.
Let's start with the hair. It's almost comic. It looks like a hat. I don't think it is. But it's sometimes suggestive of Pablo Escobar, and sometimes reminiscent of the great comic Marty Allen, of Allen and Rossi.
Presidents can't have funny hair. If I were consulting with Bill I'd give him a modern haircut, maybe a little spiky, very Mind of Mencia. I'd put him on a diet and send him to the gym. I'd also put him in jeans and cowboy boots more often. It's his legit heritage, and it always worked for brush-cuttin' Bush.
Richardson is a pretty cool character.
He's made a series of funny ads, like the ones that show him interviewing for the job of President, and the stellar spot that shows him as a Wild West Sheriff, heading them off at the pass and bustin' meth labs. He's a YouTube kind of guy, so maybe he should dress less like a suit. How about one of those sweatshirts that just says "COLLEGE" on it, like Blutarski wore in Animal House?
Al Gore claims that he is not a candidate, but the Academy Award and popular vote winning former Vice President could be the solution to an overcrowded field with no clear-cut winner. Gore is the most presidential-looking prospect out there. He's smart, he's articulate, and he's reasonable, idealistic, and forward thinking. And after a few sometimes agonizing decades he's shaken off the awkwardness, pettiness, and know-it-all hubris he often exhibited in the past. If any candidate has grown up in public, it's Gore.
I'd like to see Al throw his hat into the ring. (Maybe even a real fedora! There's something old-fashioned about him.) He has experience and he has dignity. Sure, he won the last popular vote, but only now has he really acquired a presidential patina. He wore a beard for a while. He's grown rather hefty. But I like it. He finally seems comfortable with himself.
During his beard phase he was teaching at Columbia University. His next move was to put on weight. Usually I would advise a candidate to lose weight—with the exceptions of flyweights Dennis Kucinich and Mike Huckabee—but to me the weight gives Al Gore added substance. He's more planetary, bringing a literal gravitas to the presidential arena that we haven't seen since William Howard Taft.
Note the resemblance between the new Gore and Grover Cleveland, our 22nd and 24th President.
I would suggest that Gore try the bow tie and the high-button jacket. We've had enough of casual presidents in jump suits and flight jackets. It's time that we had another President like Cleveland, whom the great H.L. Mencken called "a good man in a bad trade." Although Gore is a pleasant looking man, no one can accuse him of being superficial or a pretty boy. He has a newfound dignity and a certain reserve associated with intellect and sincerity. And, of course, within that burgeoning body there still beats the heart of a true romantic.
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