Dressing for success is one of the most tried and true used tactics when presenting oneself. It could be considered common knowledge to dress professionally in appropriate situations. Why is that? Casual dressing, such as jeans and a cotton shirt, is generally associated with a relaxed, careless, and comfortable stereotype, as judged by the brain. On the other hand, since men and women dressed formally are portrayed as important and wealthy through countless forms of media, articles of clothing like pantsuits, blazers, and collared shirts are the recommended professional attire. When judged by an audience, a successful politician must acknowledge their wardrobe as a key factor of their perception.
Virtually everything in the political realm depends on the opinion of the public. World, state, and county leaders can’t achieve anything if they don’t first captivate and attract voters. It is crucial for people in politics to choose their outfits with great consideration, as something seemingly unnoticeable could harm their image. Generally speaking, candidates often relate their clothes with their stance and motivation. Donald Trump often wears a red tie, traditionally associated with the republican party, and Bernie Sanders is known for wearing oversized suits in an effort to relate with his target audience, the working class. If someone like Sanders were to wear a luxurious, perfectly tailored suit, his expensive getup would steer middle and lower class supporters away because of their inability to relate to something of such a high cost. Once representatives find an outfit that receives good media and polling feedback from their audience, it becomes their uniform. Showing uniformity in outfits will assert an indirect trustworthiness; they will not alter their image, and even further, they won’t steer from their beliefs. A popular example of this is Hillary Clinton. She has worn a coordinating pantsuit so frequently that US citizens can automatically connect the matching blazer and pants set with Mrs.Clinton herself. Direct associations like that are exactly what candidates need to be noticed by possible supporters. However, attractive outfits aren’t only good for appealing to an audience. Studies show that certain clothes can impact personal performance. For instance, many studies show that “(...) formal outfits lead to higher abstract thinking, that wearing a lab coat like a doctor can make you focus better, and that wearing the color red leads athletes to lift a heavier amount of weight”(TheMuse). Higher confidence can also result from thoughtful attire. That new confidence can enhance skills needed in a campaign, such as word choice and pronunciation while public speaking. Self image, as well as public image, closely relate to the costume of a politician.
Just as humans react to different styles, the brain reacts to experiencing different colors. Colors influence emotions, actions, and thoughts, either positively or negatively. In a campaigning world, color can be tamed and utilized for a candidate’s benefit. Something as small as the decision between choosing a blue tie or a red tie could impact a reaction from an audience. According to Color Psychology, shades of red are, “Associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love”(Color Psychology). Because red evokes such strong feelings, it is often the most noticed color in an outfit. This may cause a crowd’s attention to be immediately focused on someone wearing a red skirt or shirt. On the other side of the color spectrum, blue is frequently compared to a sensation of tranquility, peacefulness, and compassion. When used in an outfit, followers may compare someone
wearing a blue suit and tie to a person with a level headed mind and a loving heart. Because of the use of color in marketing and daily life, patterns and meanings of color have been coded into the human brain. Certain parts of the brain can make emotional connections to the royalness of purple, like a little kid can be magnetically attracted to their favorite shade of pink. As well as psychological meaning, colors can have a historical relation. For example, British soldiers wore red coats, feminist protestors wear pink hats, and gay pride is represented by the rainbow flag. The crisp, white pantsuit that Kamala Harris wore during her acceptance speech also had a historical implication. The color white has a direct link to the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s. One day before Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1913, more than 8,000 women dawned white clothing, marched through Washington D.C., and fought for their right to vote. Following that monumental movement, women in politics such as Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferraro, and Hillary Clinton have worn white to important events to pay homage to what suffragettes fought for. Through Kamala Harris’s statement ensemble, she gave respect to the past and gained support from her female supporters at the same time. In such a position of authority, making connections through clothing is valuable when relating to an audience.
The psychology of colors is very similar to how humans absorb and interact with fashion trends. The science of trends, or described by Megan Elizabeth Lasko as, “(...) specific styles being promoted during a certain period of time”(Penn State), relies on positive reactions from the brain. Since the beginning of evolution, organisms have been required to encounter new specimens in an environment, and have had to determine if the given specimen will be advantageous to their survival or not. Trend following roots from this act in human nature. When a model sporting the latest leather jacket strut down the runway, celebrities and critics decide whether they enjoy it or dislike it. If a positive reaction is conveyed, those celebrities and critics will promote the leather jacket on various blogs, social media accounts, and within their daily wardrobe. In such a situation, the success of the trend relies on the platform of the people promoting it. More often than not, emerging and well known politicians receive plenty of press to promote their popularity. Expressing and boosting trends in fashion will grab the attention of many possible voters, especially those that are younger and may be voting for the first time. Younger generations are more exposed to social media, and because of this, are more likely to be able to apply trends to certain aspects of a politician’s outfit. A possibly more effective method of gaining recognition through fashion is trendsetting. It is scientifically proven that, because of the stimulus from the nigra and ventral tegmental areas of the brain, humans automatically form a liking to something that they have never seen before. Trendsetting has worked in favor of world leaders for thousands of years. In as early as the 17th century, King Louis XIV began to wear luxurious textiles and rich, red shoes to signify his royalty. Wanting to be like him, the people all over France began to wear expensive looking clothing. This declaration of personal style is credited as the main influence that made France so prominent in the fashion world. A more recent example is the style of Jaqueline Kennedy, a former first lady of the United States. Jackie Kennedy played an important role in inspiring the developing fashion of the sixties. She was known for accessorizing with oversized sunglasses, headscarves, and her infamous pillbox hats. Her reputation grew to be the fashion icon of the White House. Creating a favorable reputation, through fashion or not, is essential for an up and coming leader.
People working towards an office holding position are dependent on public response and press. Though it seems unrelated, fashion and style could change what an audience thinks of a representative. This can be done by dressing formally, using clothes to make a connection to campaign motives, strategically dressing in certain colors, and maneuvering the science of trends and trendsetting. All of the methods stated revolve around the unpredictable reactions of the brain. However, once the art of styling apparel has been mastered, the brain’s response can become more and more predictable. The positive feedback the brain gives to a politician’s outfit will ultimately make them a favorable candidate. Whether it’s a president wearing a bowtie, or a mayor supporting a local boutique, politicians can reach the spotlight by utilizing fashion in politics.
Andrews, Evan. “10 Fashion Trends You Didn't Know Were Started by World Leaders.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 June 2017, www.history.com/news/10-fashion-trends-you-didnt-know-were-started-by-world-leaders.
Braam, Hailey van. “The Psychological Effects & Meanings of Colors.” Color Psychology, Color Psychology, 14 Jan. 2021, www.colorpsychology.org/.
Janz, Madeleine. “The Hidden Meaning behind What Politicians Wear.” I-D, Vice, 25 Oct. 2019, i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/59n4w5/the-hidden-meaning-behind-what-politicians-wear.
Kalish, Alyse. “A Scientific Reason Why Dressing for Success Works.” The Muse, The Muse, 19 June 2020, www.themuse.com/advice/the-scientific-reason-why-dressing-for-success-works-with-a-twist-of-course.
Lasko, Megan Elizabeth, and Megan Elizabeth Lasko. “SiOWfa12: Science in Our World.” SiOWfa12 Science in Our World, Penn State, 18 Oct. 2012, sites.psu.edu/siowfa12/2012/10/18/the-science-behind-fashion/.
Mayer, Isha. “Here's Why Kamala Harris' Acceptance Speech Outfit Has Made a Huge Buzz.” Elle India, 11 Nov. 2020, elle.in/article/kamala-harris/.