An Image of Leadership: Which Candidate Has the Right Look?

By Klein Aleardi

Ask any voter and they can describe exactly what each candidate looks like, produce each one’s latest meme, and outline each’s outfit of choice. Hillary will always don a pantsuit, the Trump chooses a red power-tie paired with a toupe, and Bernie puts on his best grandpa face. In today’s political battle field, it’s not just about policy. Candidates are looked at through the lens of a First Lady, where appearance plays a large role and image, age and relatability are at the forefront.

After losing to Hillary by an over-40% gap in South Carolina, the question of whether Sanders’ appearance actually has an effect on the voters or is just another meme generator gained traction.

I took the matter of appearance during candidacy to the image experts at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In a fashion-focused setting such as the design school, their responses returned a mix of barely noticing the subject and embracing the attention to age.

According to FIT sophomore Melanie, Sanders is no different than other candidates—current and past. “They’ve been electing people like him for the past 200 years,” said Melanie. “But it’s just because we recently had a young president. I don’t think he’s any different from the other old white men who have run before.”

The age of the President is a discussion point as old as the candidates themselves. Although no one has been quite as old as Bernie, many are close. And, some have also felt the wrath of that judgmental generation who continues to drag out the matter. In 1986, when President Ronald Reagan turned 75 during his term, a few jokes were made at his expense on “Saturday Night Live.” The then-Weekend Update anchor, Dennis Miller, went as far as comparing Reagan to his grandfather—another common Bernie association.

Professor Leonard Bess, a department-head at FIT, says it’s mostly the older generation—who have always weighed age as an important factor—hating on the Bern’s seniority. “I think for the older individuals it will be a factor,” Bess said. “Probably because it has always been that way.”

Even though those high numbers are often tossed around with the idea of death, that’s not necessarily why people are against him becoming president. Generally—with the exception of some voters—it’s a concern that has been around elections for decades and has little to do with the nominee, says Bess. It’s all about his replacement.

“Really what you’re asking yourself is who will be the vice president,” Bess said. “So you’re looking at the vice president in that case and think, well, I really don’t want him to be president, so then I don’t want the main guy.”

Even without the age factor, Sanders is a stark contrast to the polished diplomacy of other candidates – exception: Trump. As demonstrated by Larry David’s portrayal of the former Vermont governor, which, as usual, wasn’t far off from the real thing, Sanders is a spirited character behind the podium.

“I think his animated speeches is part of why people think he’s crazy and super radical,” Joel Yates, founder of VendMend, said. “I think his approach to the issues is far out there, but I think you have to add some shock value to what you’re saying otherwise it won’t stick.”

That seems to be the approach Donald Trump has chosen, and it’s working. Supporters admire the leading Republican nominee for saying what he means.

On a segment of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver featured a clip from CNN of a female voter stating, “he says what he means, I honestly believe he’s telling the truth.” Another said, “he’s aggressive, he’s strong and he’s bold.” The days of talking policy are fading as candidates like Trump and Bernie introduce their personalities to the country.

But, unlike Trump, what Sanders lacks in traditional diplomacy, he makes up for with his message. FIT student, Allegra Toran, doesn’t care that Sanders’ style differs from Obama’s calm demeanor. While President Obama stares through the camera into your soul to skillfully convince you of his policies, Bernie simply tells it like it is.

Not even Sanders’ fashion distracts his audience, says Toran. Without an attractive face or a dad bod, attendees have nothing to do but listen – a skill Toran believes would be lacking if America chose a female president.

“If a woman were president, they would all be asking who she’s wearing,” Toran said. “They’d be critiquing her outside and not listening to what she’s saying.”

Clinton has already experience her share of fashion criticism – and not always from fashionistas. Although the pantsuit critique was, and still often is, popular in mainstream media, today’s female fashion conversation has taken a turn for the supportive. Women, and men, are defending Hillary’s choice, begging followers to change the subject.

A article begins, “Here’s a thought: Let’s stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits.” But, even with articles like this, her clothing still makes headlines, often bigger than her policies, and often next to a piece on Trump’s toupe. No matter the candidate, politicians can’t seem to escape the eye of the every-day fashionista.

The best case scenario for the next president is to handle the fashion-crazed followers with as much brilliance as the Obama family. The reigning first family has secured their position as leadership icons and dominated the media spotlight with their fashion and relatability. People have shared dozens of Obama memes, loved their dogs, and idolized Michelle’s arms. Allegra deemed the bunch the modern version of the perfect family.

“Like, back in the day with Dick and Jane, a mom and a dad, with two kids a boy and a girl,” Allegra said. “They’re the perfect family but in an imperfect way. They’re a minority, they have two girls, but they give off this vibe where it’s damn, I want to be a part of that family.”

With such stark differences between President Obama and Sanders, the question of fitting the fashionable—not to mention trendy—mold is up in the air for the democratic nominee. Although many on the college campus are currently unsure of Sanders’ personal life, they do believe it would be busted open with an invitation to the White House.

“I think the reason why the Obamas and their fashion are so much in the media is because he’s in his last term so there’s not much he can get done,” FIT illustration major, Marisa Aguilar, said. “I don’t think that would change for Bernie.”