Let’s Cover a Politician’s Fashion More

February 2023 Issue

Mari Minear, Writer

While clothing can be used to show someone’s personal style, politicians use their clothing for more than style. There’s symbolism and reasoning behind many outfits, ranging from George Santos’ sweater vest to Liz Cheney’s bold colors. When read into, the symbolism is quite obvious. Journalists, and the general public, need to read into it more, because it can make us more aware of what we are becoming. 

 First, let’s generalize by party. Democrats and Republicans may dress similar but have different motivations. Republicans are driven byconservatism: women often wear colorful dresses, and men wear black suits with a tie. Back in the mask era, Republicans displayed their disapproval of COVID restrictions by either wearing a simple surgical or cloth mask, or not wearing one at all. Their Democratic colleagues, on the other hand, often wore KN-95 masks or double masked. And women wear pantsuits more, with more definition beyond “it’s my beliefs,” instead saying, “it’s my history.” 

Take the 2020 State of the Union Address, for example. Democratic women dressed in all white. Their move was part of a group motive: the president, Donald Trump, giving the address was a known misogynist. They also wanted to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of women getting the right to vote. This move also celebrated the diversity of the House. Since more women are joining the House, it is necessary to recognize it. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian member of Congress, wore a traditional dress to the State of the Union. Many others wore outfits celebrating the House’s recent diversity. 

Clothing can also be used to mark political standouts or outsiders. Liz Cheney, who has become ostracized by her party, is one of these examples. Despite being conservative in her outfits, Cheney breaks the mold for women in the Republican party by dressing feminine, but not completely feminine. Her shape is very feminine: she always wears a skirt suit with heels. But she doesn’t fully follow the norms for Republican women: she isn’t overdone with jewelry or name brand attire. Instead, she is the name attached to the outfit. 

Or Kyrsten Sinema, America’s newest independent senator. Even when she considered herself inside the lines of political parties, her outfits put her out of the ordinary. Owning more than 100 pairs of shoes, Sinema became a Twitter sensation for her use of colorful wigs and sweaters during the social distancing era. Her use of clothing to stand out also emphasizes how her politics are, well, Arizonan: independent and separate from others. Ranging from tiger print dresses in bright pink to her “Dangerous Creature” sweater she wore while presiding over the Senate floor, Sinema differentiates herself from other Senators, both in her politics and clothing. 

Or George Santos, one of America’s newest politicians and a prolific liar. As part of his fabrications, he claimed he attended prestigious schools and came from a high-income background. At the first of many days of voting for House Speaker, Santos wore a stereotypical outfit a boy from private school would wear: a sweater vest, a navy blazer, and khakis. His outfits only enhanced his false claims: he was buying into the stereotype of someone “from his background.” But, as we now know, it’s clear he only tries to enhance the character he wants to play. 

As we look into the outfits of various politicians, it’s clear there is a reason for each detail. When we read into politician’s clothing, we can have a deeper understanding of their background, politics, and where they stand in their party. If we pay attention to it more, American politics can hopefully become more transparent than our politicians intend for it to be.