Bernie Sanders has been called everything from disheveled to schlubby and unkempt. Those are tough words for someone who hopes to portray to the world that he's worthy of nuclear access codes. And sure, politics is supposed to be about platforms and policy opinions, but we all know how much appearance influences our impression of potential leaders.
"He's also been referred to as the 'Left Wing Grandpa,' " says D.C.-based stylist and Style Bible author Lauren Rothman. "It's what I see on Capitol Hill all the time. The biggest badge of honor that you wear is the mustard stain on your tie, not a pin on your lapel." And while that may be true on the Hill, when out stumping for votes, that approach may not impress voters.
"If he cares about how he looks, it says he cares about himself and others," says men's fashion designer Jay Kos. The business owner has dressed everyone from Andre 3000 to Diddy. With a Super Tuesday stumble under his belt, we take a look at Bernie Sanders' style to address what he does right and what he could improve on.
Sanders has the accessible bit down pat.
When you're running for president, you spend your days in dark suits. While professional, when the suit is too pressed, slightly too modern, or looks too expensive, candidates look out of step with the average American. Bernie has no problem in unbuttoning his top button and shedding his blazer when the time is right.
But sometimes he looks a little too familiar.
Approachable is key, but so is professional. The 74-year-old frequently looks a bit too worn, which attracts adjectives like disheveled as his suits are often wrinkled and unpressed. The beauty of a suit is its simplicity, so making sure your white (or blue in Sanders' case) shirts are crisp, is key to looking good.
Also, get out of the hand-me-downs.
When you're younger, wearing a suit a size too big is excusable, for growing boys. But as an adult, when your only growth will be increasing width, you should have your fit down pat. "Sanders should continue to wear dark navy suits, but update the fit to look more contemporary and polished," says Kos. "His shoulders are too big on his suit and would be improved by having a simple soft shoulder with a high armhole, and he should slim down the pants." Brands like Brook Brothers, who has dressed almost all sitting U.S. Presidents, also favors soft, natural shoulders. "This will change his look to being tailored, rather than looking like he's wearing an old suit." If he's afraid that a natural shoulder might expose bad posture, Sanders could easily stay with shoulder pads but aim for versions that stop right at the end of the natural shoulder instead of his current ones that hinge over.
He's got his colors down.
Bernie keeps the color palette for his suits pretty neutral and simple, which is not only a smart move for television but in line with decorum, considering his age. By not going flashy with trendy pieces, he never comes off trying too hard or age inappropriate. Instead, he always appears authentic and relatable. Even down to typically going with the worker's blue collar instead of the manager's white, this politician matches up his political views with his wardrobe choices.
Chuck the pleated pants.
While there might be a way to do pleated pants, Sanders has shown time and time again that he's not clear on how to pull it off. Couple that with their decidedly retro vibes, and the style seems to age him more. "His pleated pants should be updated to something more modern," says Rothman. "I'd love to see him in a pair of flat-front pants that really fit him."
Update the eyewear.
The little things count. If he's looking for an update from his wire-frame glasses, he could go one of two ways. "I actually think he'd look great in a plastic frame," says Rothman, "something that really worked with his face shape and wasn't based on his clothes. Maybe a buffalo rim temple." If he's not up for that, the stylist suggests a pair of rimless frames for a cleaner look.
The hair could use product.
While it's Kos's opinion that Bernie's hair is a part of the senator's identity, Rothman thinks a little effort would go a long way. "It would be great to see him comb his hair, maybe use a little product," she says. We're not advocating comb-overs or drastic changes, a quick run-through with a comb and some product to gently tame flyaways the pundit has become known for could add polish to his look.