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.”

Does Bernie Need To Be A Fashionista?

By Ali Guglielminetti

Joel likes Bernie Sanders because of his stance on free tuition, but his father questions Bernie because of his wild white hair. Who is the superficial one?

But now for the harder question–who is the more mature voter?

Assessments ranging from adorable grandpa and Santa sans beard to simply just ‘ugly’ are constantly made of Bernie. His age, his animated demeanor, and his less than polished outfits cause some voters to wonder if this political figure has what it takes to lead our country.

Yet all of these issues come down to simple questions of physicality and do not reflect the political ideas that Bernie stands for. Or do they?

“I think he’s kind of kooky old man, he has a lot of really great, really big ideas,” Joel Yates, a FIT student explains of Bernie,“I’m not sure if his appearance is something that our generation is too concerned about, I think a lot of my friends are more concerned about the issues.” Yates agrees that Bernie’s tactics are a little unorthodox, but these methods only secure his support, “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.”

Yates explained that when speaking about politics with his father, his father questions his support of Bernie, yet his father’s criticism of Bernie is simply that he’s crazy. “Older generations, I feel like [they] are like here’s another kooky white man from Vermont,” said Yates, “I think his animated speeches are part of why people think he’s crazy and super radical.”

Yates attributes this perspective of his father, at least partially, to Bernie’s appearance and overall presence explaining, “he’s very animated and uses a lot of hand gestures, which contributes to the whole ‘kooky old man [impression]” and makes people say, ‘oh he’s crazy and super radical’.”

Younger generations, while noting Bernie’s characteristic features (good or bad), believe that Bernie’s ideas speak louder. Older generations, on the other hand, seem to be caught up in these physical characteristics and the belief that physical features reveal inherent craziness.

Regardless of the reasoning, the older generations are clearly not as supportive of Bernie as liberal millennials. Iowa entrance polls showed 84 percent of voters aged 17 to 29 give their support to Sanders, with this percentage consistently dropping with each increase in age demographic.

F.I.T. Professor Leonard Bess, affirms, “I think if the message is good and the message is strong, you can get equal footing. It just depends on what you have to say.” While this may be the belief, Bess also explains that, “Obama has a pattern to his speech that really is dynamic and grabs you.” Bess explained that while the candidate’s ideas are the important aspects, there is still something appealing about a candidate who presents himself well.

Bernie’s age is another physical deterrent for many voters. “I think for the older individuals it will be a factor,” Bess said. “Probably because it has always been that way.” Perhaps surprisingly, older voters seem to be the first to doubt Bernie because of his seniority.

Rationally, generations acknowledge that the beliefs of a candidate are what really matter and what they should base their conclusions on, yet it is impossible to completely separate an individual from their physical form, and perhaps slightly less superficial, how the candidate chooses to present themselves.

Generation Y is listening to Bernie, and they appreciate his ideas and passion. With Bernie advocating for women’s rights, LGBT equality, and affordable college tuition, it is understandable that the younger generation feels a connection to Bernie’s ideas. With such a strong connection to Bernie evident to the younger generations, the criticism of Bernie by older generations may not be restricted to his appearance.

When asked about Bernie, all generations seem to acknowledge his quirks, but younger generations confirm that his ideas are appealing, and that is really what matters. The question is are generation Y-ers ignoring the quirks or are the older generations magnifying them?

Allegra Toran, a Fine Arts major at FIT confirms, “Bernie is not impressive to look at, so you…don’t care what he looks like at that point, and if there’s nothing to look at, you listen.”

Toran somewhat affectionately describe Bernie explaining, “he’s adorable, he’s old…[he’s a] little man probably in his late 70s (and he looks it), he has an adorable Brooklyn accent and he has cute little white hairs that are going bald at the top.” All of these features equating to what Toran believes to be an appealing candidate, but might forfeit the vote for others.

Though Toran deems Bernie’s Brooklyn accent “adorable,” I would think twice before letting my own accent slip, and ask for “wawter” or “cawffee” at a job interview, for the same reason that I would not show up in jeans. When looking for someone to fill a certain position, presentation is one of the only available factors–this is much the same for a presidential candidate.

College students, like Toran, have more to say about his ideas and his passion rather than grasping onto his sometimes disheveled appearance. Toran again highlights the idea that while there are clear differences between Bernie and the Obamas, “it’s like not necessarily the way [Bernie] says it but what he’s says.”

Looks may not strongly influence Generation Y however, Toran does comment that if Bernie were to become president, “Putin would feel like he could walk all over him.” This point yet again indicating the struggle of appearance. While a number of voters are happy to disregard Bernie’s looks and affirm that his ideas are solid rather than critiquing his fashion sense, there can never be a complete disconnect or ignorance of how one presents himself.

Eyes are always on the White House, both the President and the first family are always on display to the entire world as symbols of the United States. Perhaps the older generations are not using fashion and other superficial critiques to cover their fundamental disagreement with Bernie, but the idea of “presidential appearance” is a criteria that these older generations are more inclined to include in their judgments.