TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Paul Ryan is preparing for the biggest speech of his career on Wednesday, when he will accept the Republican vice presidential nomination in front of a television audience of tens of millions of voters.
Style experts hope he’ll find some time to do some clothes shopping as well.
Ryan’s budget-cutting plan has made him one of the most polarizing figures in U.S. politics, but many of those who know fashion agree on one thing: The man needs serious help with his wardrobe.
When Mitt Romney added Ryan to the Republican ticket this month, fashion experts panned the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman’s duck-billed loafers, floppy shirt collars and baggy suits.
GQ, the men’s magazine, called Ryan’s boxy black suit a “suburban dad special,” while Esquire compared it to a trash bag. Women’s Wear Daily called his choice of square-toed shoes “one of the most grievous mistakes a man can make.”
Ryan looks “like a boy wearing his father’s suit,” said Jesse Thorn, editor of the menswear blog Put This On.
Ryan probably won’t need the support of fashionistas to win the vice presidency on November 6, but some clothing experts wonder whether voters might conclude that a man who wears suits that seem to be a couple of sizes too large isn’t ready to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
“If the suit’s too big for him, it seems like the job is too big for him,” said Laurie Graham, a Los Angeles image consultant who works with business clients.
Ryan also gets low marks for wearing his suit without a tie, an increasingly popular look among political candidates striving for the approachable look.
“To me it looks like they had to run out of the house because it was on fire,” said David Hodgkins, owner of David Wood Clothiers in Portland, Maine. “It’s incomplete, it’s like a shoe without shoelaces.”
Ryan’s appearance could be a reflection of his monk-like focus on fiscal policy. A wonk’s wonk, Ryan is known for sleeping in his Capitol Hill office and staying up late studying budget tables, rather than hitting Washington’s party scene.
“I wonder if there was some point in his life when he was 15 or 20 pounds heavier, and went into a Men’s Wearhouse, had himself measured and wrote it down for posterity,” Thorn said.
Ryan’s poorly fitting suits threaten to obscure looks that routinely are described as boyishly handsome and a body that has been toned by the vigorous P90X fitness regimen.
TMZ, a gossip website, wrote that Ryan might be “the hottest vice presidential candidate ever.” The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, named him one of the 50 most attractive people in politics in 2008.
“Forget the budget: Paul Ryan is hot!” wrote Politico, another publication for Washington insiders.
Unlike female politicians whose clothing and hairstyle choices are dissected endlessly, male politicians typically enjoy less scrutiny and face fewer fashion risks.
For decades, the choice of lawmakers and officials has been a dark suit with a white shirt and red or blue solid tie to convey an aura of power and authority. President Ronald Reagan’s brown suits were a rare exception, but they helped to bolster his image as a western outsider with few ties to Washington.
Clothing, however, occasionally can trip up male politicians.
Vice President Al Gore was mocked during the 2000 presidential campaign for heeding the advice of a consultant who told him to wear earth tones. And President Barack Obama drew snickers when he was photographed in high-waisted “dad jeans” a few years ago.
President George H.W. Bush only deepened his blue-blooded reputation when he argued that he wasn’t a “Brooks Brothers Republican” because he wore J. Press suits - another brand favored by old-money New Englanders.
For political candidates, a sudden fashion transformation doesn’t always work out.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin traded in her turtlenecks and fleece vests for designer outfits after she was chosen as Republican John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008. But the $150,000 cost of the makeover led to uncomfortable questions for the campaign, particularly when it became clear that the Republican Party had paid for the clothes.
For Ryan, it won’t be too difficult to up his sartorial game when he takes the podium at the Republican convention in Tampa on Wednesday night, fashion experts say.
Black cap-toe shoes, a dark, slim-fitting suit from a maker such as Brooks Brothers or Southwick, a white shirt and a solid or striped tie would convey confidence and authority, menswear experts said. Most importantly, it would not distract from the message Ryan hopes to convey to voters.
“It’s his job to look responsible,” Thorn said. “His priority should be to look like he has his act together.”
Editing by David Lindsey and Leslie Adler