Paul Ryan’s “Clothing Is Horrific”

And other observations on the candidates and their wardrobes.

With Barack Obama and Mitt Romney so close in the polls (well, some of the polls, anyway) anything they say or do could push the election one way or the other — even what they wear. I asked two of Philadelphia’s sartorial savants, Craig von Schroeder of custom clothier Commonwealth Proper and Brian Lipstein from Henry Davidsen Master Tailors, for insight into the candidates by way of the clothes they wear.

Paul Ryan

Craig von Schroeder: “His clothing is horrific. It’s way too big. You can see it in his shirts. The collars of his shirts are too big, and that makes you look sloppy. And he wears suits that are way too big for his shoulders. If there is one thing a guy can do to increase the quality of fit, it is finding a suit jacket that fits him in the shoulders. Ryan exacerbates the problem of the too-big suit by leaving it unbuttoned. It should always be buttoned when you are standing, or it makes you look bigger than you are. I’m sure his clothing is not custom, but if it is, his tailor should be shot. He wears cheap suits, and cheap suits look cheap. Maybe some Americans like this, but to me, he just looks sloppy.”

Brian Lipstein: “Early on in the Republican National Convention, Ryan was wearing a blue tie. I was really surprised to see something like that at the convention. This is the Republican National Convention. You’re seeing all red ties. It’s all about red, all about the GOP, all about the red, the red, the red. And here is Ryan in his blue tie. I think that’s just one that slipped through the cracks. You will notice that on the night of Romney’s acceptance speech, both had red ties on.”

Joe Biden

Craig von Schroeder: “Biden wears cufflinks. I haven’t seen any of the others, Barack included, wear cufflinks. Biden is really the only one that wears cufflinks, and he’s probably the only one that can wear cufflinks. The other candidates are all wearing traditional barrel cuff closures. He’s also the only guy with a pocket square, and I really like that. Together, the cufflinks and pocket square can come across as showy, that you care more about the way you dress than the issues. Image consultants may say that it seems a little garish, and they may want to pare that down, but he pulls it off well. Among the four, Joe Biden is the best dressed.”

Brian Lipstein: “I love that he wears a pocket square. I know that when Biden was Governor of Delaware — I know the guy that used to make his suits custom for him. And I assume he’s still going down that path and buying custom. The guy who worked with him in Delaware always had a pocket square in, and he probably worked with Biden to give him that influence. I always say that there’s a pocket there for a reason. It’s an accessory that finishes the look and sets you apart from most people. It’s a detail of distinction.”

Mitt Romney

Craig von Schroeder: “Take a look back to the Kennedy era. Back then, everybody had a well-fitting suit. Everything just fit better back then. Today, Romney wears things too big and too long. His jacket sleeves are always too long. Actually, Ryan’s are too. When you are wearing a dress shirt with a jacket on top, you should have a quarter to a half inch of shirt sleeve hanging out when your arms are at your sides. That’s a point of style that should be present. You’ll also notice that Romney has a very small gap between his collar, which is pointing straight down. A smaller tie knot, and a smaller gap between collar points. And that works for his build — he’s a little heavier set — and his conservative platform. He doesn’t wear the spread collars that are more seen in popular culture.”

Brian Lipstein: “I saw a picture of Mitt Romney in Florida campaigning in Florida, and he was so casual. He was wearing jeans, no tie, and his sleeves were rolled up. It’s Florida. People are casual, and he’s trying to relate more to the people.”

Barack Obama

Craig von Schroeder: “Barack is tall and slender, and he wears a modern fit, he wears a suit that fits him very well. Unlike Mitt Romney, he wears a spread collar. Not an English cutaway, mind you, but traditional spread. And he’s able to pull in a tie but not fill the space. With tall and slender, you want a wider collar opening to even out, to counterbalance your weight and height with a little more of a base. The idea is that the whole collar region and shirt and lapels and jacket will lead onlookers’ attention to one’s face. That’s what you want.”

Brian Lipstein: “Four years ago, when Obama went on the campaign trail, some criticized him for taking the tie off and dressing down to the audience. Why? The goal was to open himself up more to the lower and middle class. His whole campaign was built on change. We can make it happen. People will make change, not me. He took the tie off and took the jacket off, and it was really one of the first times you saw a candidate really dress down, at least on a major campaign trail. And it worked. And he’s maintained a casual appearance a little more throughout the first term. Friends of mine on Capitol Hill say he doesn’t even wear a jacket in the Oval Office sometimes. He’s brought this cultural change to the way politics are represented.”