Donald Trump’s choice of clothing on the trail echoes his campaign’s theme: America was great once—probably sometime in the mid 1980s—but it’s not any more, and I’m going to bring the old days back. Either by accident or by design, the Republican nominee dresses like a Reagan-era Wall Street mogul, and controversies over his menswear line have put an unusual focus on fashion in the election.
The Trump Look
The characteristic Trump look begins with the suit. It’s always a suit—never a sport coat and slacks, a look that Trump would likely consider too middle-management. The colors come from a limited palette of charcoal, gray and navy blue.
An Outdoors Look
Trump even wears dark suits when campaigning outdoors, though he sometimes skips the tie and puts on a Make America Great Again baseball cap, a look he favored at a rally in Phoenix and during a trip to his Scottish golf course.
A Campaign Uniform
Trump is hardly the only politician with what amounts to a uniform. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton favors pantsuits, while President Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he only wears gray or blue suits to pare down the number of decisions he has to make each day. (Not to mention avoid the kind of the criticism he took for sporting a tan suit once.)
An Older Style
But Trump’s choice of outfits makes an impression. It’s an old-school look for a certain type of business leader, especially those in traditional industries like manufacturing, which Trump has promised to revitalize. Today’s high-tech business moguls, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Apple’s Tim Cook, favor a more casual look.
Boxy, Not Tailored
The suit is also boxy, not overly tailored. The boxy look conveys a more traditional view of masculinity, making the wearer look larger and more broad-shouldered. By comparison, the more modern look favored by someone like Neil Patrick Harris—and his character, Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother”—is more form-fitting with a wider range of colors and patterns.
The Power Tie
The focal point of the suit is the power tie. Trump favors bold colors—especially red, the classic 1980s power tie choice and a color now associated with Republicans. If he goes for a pattern, it’s typically just stripes. The shirt is white and the suit unbuttoned, to accentuate the tie.
The Kaine Look
By comparison, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine wore a blue shirt with a multi-colored striped tie to the Democratic national convention. That more accessible look may have contributed to the image of him as “America’s step-dad” that some had after his national debut.
The Small Touches
With men’s fashion, it’s the small touches that make the difference. Like cufflinks, which Trump makes a point of wearing, but which most American men only wear on formal occasions, such as weddings.
The Tie Length
There’s also one stylistic flourish that is specific to Trump: the extremely long tie. Many American men knot their ties poorly, resulting in uneven lengths, but generally the tie is supposed to end at the top of the belt buckle. Trump’s almost always extends below that, typically a fashion no-no. Coupled with the unbuttoned jacket and the bold colors, the tie becomes the focal point of the outfit.
The Trump-Pence Look
The Trump look even seems to have rubbed off on his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. As a member of the House of Representatives, Pence favored the more buttoned-down look. But as he took the stage at the Republican national convention, you might have thought Trump was his personal tailor, right down to the tie length.
A Throwback Look
The Trump look is something of a throwback. In recent years, male politicians have increasingly ditched the jacket and rolled up their sleeves, a look that conveys that they’re getting ready to work while also seeming more approachable.
The End of Neckwear?
Or they’ve chosen to skip the tie entirely, the political equivalent of a casual Friday. (One publication even asked, tongue in cheek, “Is President Obama killing the neck tie business?”)
Menswear isn’t just symbolic in the Trump campaign, it’s become part of the story. After Trump said that many Mexican immigrants are rapists at his campaign launch, Macy’s stopped carrying Trump’s line of dress shirts, ties, cufflinks and watches.
Wearing a Trump Tie
That turned a Trump tie into a symbol of one’s, well, ties to Trump. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee even boasted that he was wearing a Trump tie at one primary debate. “I love Donald Trump. He is a good man. I’m wearing a Trump tie tonight,” he said.
Made in China
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has sought to turn Trump’s line of menswear into an attack line, asking in her acceptance speech “what part of ‘America First’ leads him to make Trump ties in China, not Colorado, Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan.” To underline the point, she later visited Denver tie maker Knotty Tie, picking up a custom tie with her campaign logo for her husband.
A Gender Divide
Trump has had this look for decades. But in a year where he faces the first female major party nominee, a historically high gender gap among supporters as well as donors and multiple controversies over his statements about women, Trump’s fashion choices only accentuate his differences with Clinton.