Arts Post
Posted at 02:51 PM ET, 11/04/2011

Herman Cain’s suits: Double-breasted, double meaning

Fashion criticism of the Republican presidential candidates has finally extended to both genders with a new critique of Herman Cain’s choice of formal double-breasted suits.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain waits to be introduced before his address to the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Consumer Electronic Association. (Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)

Robin Givhan, fashion columnist for the Daily Beast and former Post critic, says that Cain’s double-breasted suits aren’t conveying the meaning he hopes:

At first, the style seemed to play to his hustings sales pitch: He was the accomplished businessman who, while preaching tough love — or disdain — to the unemployed, assured voters that he could right this country’s finances if only given the opportunity ... But now, when it’s alleged that Cain wielded his executive power in a sexual and inappropriate way, that in-your-face, sartorial swagger reads in damning ways.

Double-breasted suits were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, and then again in the late 1980s. More formal than the single-breasted suit, they’re a civilian interpretation of a military jacket. The six-by-two configuration of buttons that Cain favors has been worn by Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and, unfortunately, the character of Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.”

It’s a suit of authority and control — but with his sex scandal allegations, Cain no longer has control of his own narrative. And as a symbol of Wall Street greed in the ’80s, a double-breasted suit sends the wrong message to voters from the Occupy movement and the tea party, who each have different reasons to be angry about the government’s connection to financial institutions.

Though Michele Bachmann has been criticized for her attire — and even for her long fingernails — this marks the first major sartorial judgment against a male candidate. As reporters try to dig out the skeletons in Cain’s closets, it seems as though they’ll be taking note of the clothes on the hangers, as well.

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