"Taste is the fundamental quality which sums up all the other qualities. It is the nec plus ultra of the intelligence." Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont (1846–1870), French author, poet.
As Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden faced off in their Vice Presidential Candidates Debate on Thursday, I decided to pay particular attention to the non-verbal presentation and communication of the VP candidates on the screen (the verbal part of it mostly just confuses me).
A man says plenty with his clothes, anyways. Most of our body is covered by it; it's pretty much the first thing people notice about us; and when pointing out a stranger in a crowd, we almost always identify them by something they're wearing.
For those of you that are still skeptical – go into 10 nice restaurants in jeans and a t-shirt and ask to use the restroom, now do the same in a suit and tie. Think you'll have the same success rate? Clothes matter, and in an arena like politics, where so much of what is said is subject to asterisks, gray areas, revision, and sometimes even fact-checking from your own campaign, it doesn't hurt to present yourself properly and say the right things when you're not actually speaking.
The VP Candidates debate was no different. Though on first glance both men wore dark suits with ties that represented their parties' colors, and then sat down and talked a lot, a careful study of the tape shows that the sartorial debate was raging too, and for two men so concerned with cuts and breaks, I found plenty to discuss.
We know that Ryan, a workout fiend and P-90X devotee, has broad shoulders and, as Time magazine just pointed out, a very admirable body - but you'd never be able to tell in this suit, cause you can't actually see where his shoulders are. This common sartorial issue comes from the tradition of men heavily padding the shoulders of their jackets in order to broaden and exaggerate the horizontal line of the shoulders. On a well-cut, British-style suit, this creates an illusion of upper body strength and pectoral size.
On a poorly-cut, off-the-rack suit, it creates an illusion of the wearer swimming, and sometimes drowning, in his own clothing. Biden's shoulders are also padded (politicians favor this style of suit as I hear they love to present "bigger" and "larger" versions of themselves to the public), but notice how the padding doesn't extend beyond his natural shoulder-line. You can actually tell where his arms are when he moves, and despite having a smaller and probably "less-TMZ-worthy" body than Ryan, he actually looks more like the defined one in his clothing, whereas Ryan looks like he borrowed his older brother's suit for senior prom night. Notice Biden's lapels, flat on his chest even as he moves his arm out. I wonder if he's pointing at how Ryan's lapels are sticking out from his body, maybe in an attempt to flee the scene.
Unfortunately, this shoulder problem has been all-too-common for Ryan. He needs to pick out a suit with not only less padding, but a tighter armhole as well, creating a more defined shoulder and arm cut, which will clean up this "look" that does little more than suggest "ill-fitting." Dare I suggest something,…Italian? Ok, maybe that's going too far…and yes, I know that shopping is confusing for most men. Between you and the right product, there's always a salesman waiting to pounce on your ineptitude. We've all been there - the lazy salesman tells you to buy the jacket a size up so that "you can wear a sweater underneath," and at the time it sounds like a pretty good idea, right Congressman? Well if a sweater underneath is good, then full football pads must be better, right? That, or maybe he just really loved Thom Browne's Fall/Winter 2012 collection.
From the shoulders on down, it didn't get much better on Thursday night. Notice how Biden's jacket tapers from the accentuated shoulders down to a slim waist, visually creating the effect of that V-shaped torso that we're taught is so universally appealing in men. Ryan's jacket doesn't seem to do him this favor at all, despite the fact that he's probably the one built like a clothes-hanger around the shoulders with not much more than a 31-inch waist down below.
You can actually get a sense of Biden's body and build, whereas you'll just have to take somebody's word for it that Congressman Ryan has a strong build and it's just hiding under that oversized suit somewhere. Furthermore, despite the fact that they're both wearing dark suits, props to Mr. Biden for going with a suit without flaps sticking out of the pockets ("besom") and a fabric that has a slight sheen to it – perfect for night-time TV formality. Ryan's suit fabric looks a little matte, and those flapped pockets are more appropriate for a suit of the more casual variety (yes, America, these exist) or even a sportsjacket. The shirts are different too – Biden high up on his neck, with a proud stiff spread collar drawing you right to his face. Ryan's shirt hangs down low on his neck, even sticking out a little, and distracting the viewer from his face – a problem further exacerbated by the lobster bib he's chosen for a tie.
As we move the debate further below the belt, we see that Congressman Ryan isn't doing himself any favors down there, either. Luckily for him, the VP candidates sat down almost the entire time last night, so we'll have to rely on old pictures to complete our inspection. Notice the trousers below on the left: the fabric is pooling around the ankles (known as – I promise this isn't a political joke – too much break) and it makes the wearer actually look shorter than the man on the right, whose proper trouser length creates a lengthening and slimming visual effect on his frame.
Furthermore, wide-legged trousers with multiple deep pleats are designed to hide a protruding midsection while providing range of motion to the wearer – they look correct on our grandfathers; larger men who need a couple extra yards of fabric hanging from the waistband; but on Ryan's athletic frame, they look, well the opposite. target="external">Just take a look at this photo and try guessing which guy is 65 years old, about 6'0" 180lbs and which one is 42, stands 6'2" at 163lbs with 6% body fat:
Just to be sure, Ryan is on the left. See what I mean? The man needs some upgrades.
Now, I know many people may be asking why I'm spending so much time looking at these men's clothes. Who cares? They want to lead a country, fix an economy – not walk a runway, right? Sure, that's true, I doubt any of the candidates have the time or interest to keep up with the latest in menswear and tailoring. But consider this: for all our differences, every Republican, Democrat, undecided, and (almost every) liberal wakes up each morning and covers 90% of his or her body in clothing. Would you want a person who fails so obviously at this most basic of human tasks to run your country, make decisions on your behalf, and represent your general interests every day over the next four years?
It's certainly something to think about. Besides, when your beloved Mr. President or Mr. Vice President is inevitably caught in sheep's clothing, with his pants down, and his foot in his mouth, don't you at least hope the man is on the front page in well-cut Loro Piana wool, chomping on a John Lobb shoe, reminding the rest of the world and its nattily-attired leaders (this excludes you, Hugo) that yes, America is back, sharper, sleeker, and smarter than ever?
Result: the committee of one has unanimously declared the winner: Vice President Joe Biden.