WASHINGTON — PRESIDENTIAL candidates this year have been as clothes conscious as a layout in Gentlemen's Quarterly - or Rolling Stone, depending on what image they think the voters are looking for.
The "take no prisoners" journalist Patrick Buchanan announced his candidacy on "The McLaughlin Group" where he was a panelist, all duded up in a rust suede jacket and slicked-down hair. By the time he hit the campaign trail he'd changed his image to dark, long suits strict as an undertaker's and sincere ties.
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who campaigned in an earlier political life in Nehru jacket and beads, has changed his image. He emerged this time in a trademark white turtleneck worn with a dark jacket. It gave him the look of a defrocked cleric.
When he hit Ypsilanti for the Michigan primary, he donned a blue satin union jacket from UAW Local 1776 with his name embroidered on the front. The jacket cost $65 but is worth a million dollars in publicity showing Governor Brown looking like a working man, friend of labor on TV. He may wear it clear to the California primary.
Brown has also been seen campaigning in $1,500 Armani suits as Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton pointed out in a reference to the Brown family wealth. But comedian Jay Leno summed up the changing image best when he said Brown wore a lumberman's plaid jacket in Maine, changed to a UAW jacket in Michigan, and bulletproof jacket in New York.
President and candidate George Bush was filmed roving around Camp David recently in a cart while driving visiting Russian President Boris Yeltsin through the Maryland woods and wearing a round-up Stetson along with a suede frontier jacket. For his more formal life at the White House, he tends toward pin-striped suits, rep ties, and button-down shirts from Georgetown clothiers Joseph A. Banks, where he shops.
Governor Clinton, despite his teddy-bear haircut, looks like a page from Esquire in his serious navy-blue suits and series of rep ties; or in his collegiate looking tweeds on the campaign trail. He sometimes pulls on a piece of local color momentarily, as he did the crisp white bakers' jacket in a Chicago bakery.
Menswear professionals, who watch for candidates to make a fashion statement, critiqued the candidates. At Barneys, the upscale Manhattan clothing store, Peter Rizzo, Barneys New York Senior Vice President, nicked Clinton: "Mr. Clinton's insistence upon wearing tightly fitted clothes due to his recent weight gain, along with his starched white shirts and his overly-padded-shouldered-suits, are more reminiscent of the '80s than the refined understatement of the upcoming '90s."
He also predicted that Jerry Brown's publicized decision "to purchase a suit at a Lower Manhattan discounter" was "risking the chance of being inappropriately dressed...."
"I think Clinton is well dressed, very regional, chooses darker colors for Northern [appearances], softer, not quite as intimidating for Southern, dressing to his environment. Everybody else looks like a clone of an IBM salesman," says Gerard Jacob who is a sales representative at trendy Britches in Georgetown.