Ryan and Romney: A contrast in sartorial styles

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Louis Everard, owner of Everard’s Clothing. The story has been updated.

August 14, 2012

On Saturday, Mitt Romney introduced his running mate, Paul Ryan, describing their shared ideals and shared vision for America.

The two, evidently, do not share a tailor.

Romney, with carefully rolled sleeves and an ice-blue tie, looked polished, the way presidential candidates often do.

But Ryan (Wis.) appeared rumpled, slightly sloppy for a vice-presidential candidate. As if he’d flown in hours before and mistakenly picked up someone else’s suitcase. His pants sagged at his ankles. His starched, white shirt bunched at his stomach. His dark jacket drooped, better suited for a man of the cloth than a man on a presidential ticket.

Ryan, a high-ranking House Republican, known as a stickler for numbers and a devotee of hard-core workouts, seemed oddly unconcerned about the clothes he wore during the most important announcement of his political career. How could a fitness buff with 6 to 8 percent body fat wear a suit that looked two sizes too big?

“Paul Ryan looked like what he is: a rumpled, think-tank policy wonk sort of guy,” said Christine K. Jahnke, president of Positive Communications, a Washington-based media and image-consultant company (her hundreds of clients have included The Washington Post). “I don’t think that will change as the campaign goes on. If he clicks it up too much, both he and Romney will have the distant CEO-Wall Street look.”

Perhaps his raw, slightly unkempt suit balances out Romney’s snazzier, controlled appearance. Ryan’s Midwestern sensibilities and baggy pants may appeal to swing voters who think cuff links are wasteful expenditures. The man believes in trimming budgets, not pant legs.

“Some people are trying to put his suit into a bigger sociological picture,” said Daniel James Cole, professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “Romney wearing the jeans, Reagan wearing the open shirt in 1980. That the campaign is trying to pose [Ryan] as an Everyman. I just think he didn’t put an adequate amount of thought into what he was going to wear.”

It could be a case of taking business casual a bit too far, or trying to relate to voters. Since the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter was first photographed carrying his suit bag over his shoulder on campaign stops, or when Sen. Lamar Alexander wore red and black plaid for his 1,000-mile hike across Tennessee in the governor’s race, politicians have dressed down to get their poll numbers up.

“Candidates have gone from being more formal and distant to presenting themselves as an every person by consciously dressing down,” said Thomas Patterson, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “But Ryan probably needs a new tailor. This is early in the rollout of Ryan. The campaign will try to package the whole thing. They hardly ever leave anything to chance.”

Since he hit the campaign trail, Romney has perfected Gap jeans and rolled sleeves. His casual attire seems polished and politically sound. Newcomers, or those who are styled as such, tend to overlook the tiny details that seasoned politicians have perfected in their campaign personas.

Louis Everard, a Georgetown-based tailor who has made custom suits for appointees in the Bush and Obama administrations, says he notices that freshman congressmen rarely wear fitted suits. It separates them from the seasoned politicos.

“The gentlemen who have been here for a while, they’re all doing a great job with their suits,” Everard said. “But the freshman congressmen who are new to Washington may not know to tailor their suits, or that Washington has great tailors.”

Or they might not care. In Ryan’s case, styling himself as a baggy-suited newcomer aligned with the party’s conservatives may be a wise strategy for the campaign. And it may steer Ryan away from the disaster that accompanied Sarah Palin’s 2008 wardrobe scandal, when financial disclosure records revealed that the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on her clothing — which occurred after Lisa A. Kline was hired to handle Palin’s campaign makeover.

As to whether Ryan’s ill-fitting suit is a strategic choice or fashion faux pas, Patterson says time will tell.

“I assume since he’s been in Washington, he’s purchased a few nice suits,” Patterson said. “We’ll see if he rolls them out.”

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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