From stiff-backed politics and stuffy, graying men in formal suits to lean presidents in track suits, the fashion of politics has taken a radical shift in recent years. Although policy and experience are crucial to politicians' popularity, so is their public image.
People often view a leader's strength as a mirror of the nation's strength. A leader's behavior or demeanor can directly reflect those strengths. Many voters make selections based on how well they think those candidates will represent their values and beliefs. Through dress and language, politicians establish who they are and what kinds of leaders they will be.
Voters look for politicians who are both masters of oratory and champions of positive public image.
Seth Pendleton, a political consultant who prepares and trains Democratic candidates, said, "How you say something is as important as what you say."
This was evident in the 2008 election when President Obama was a candidate, his image, and his overall demeanor were distinctly opposite from that of his political adversary, John McCain.
"Obama gathered support by contrast. Next to McCain, it was like the old and the new," Pendleton said. The crux of Obama's political campaign of 2008 lay in his image as the youthful, strong, attractive senator from Illinois. Not unlike President John F. Kennedy, Obama represented a pillar of youth and the future of America.
That image allowed Obama to draw support from the younger generations. According to exit polls in the 2008 presidential election, as voters' ages increased, their support for Obama decreased. This represents a direct relation between age and appeal. Obama won strong support from voters aged 18 to 29.
In a poll of high school students ages 15 to 18, at Central Bucks High School East, many said they thought a president should look "polished," "professional," "serious," and "prestigious."
That may have been part of Obama's appeal to the younger generation. Kaitlin Junod, a junior at CB East said, "We want to see someone who can give a speech about our foreign policy in a crisp suit and tie, but who picks up his kids from school in jeans and a T-shirt."
The young people of America want a leader who can be professional when needed, and be a regular person just as readily.
Obama appears to have set the precedent for how modern politicians should dress. Now the "casual Friday" epidemic has infected Washington and has infiltrated politics everywhere.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, a Democrat, said, "The trend in politics is towards more casual dress, but it depends on the situation. We wear suits when we are in session, but in the office we dress in more business-casual attire."
Pendleton said, "Context and occasion are key. Many politicians want to show that they are approachable and just like you."
Mitt Romney has tried to appeal to the public by wearing jeans and casual clothing.
When asked if politicians who have good policy and solid backing can succeed if they cannot connect with voters, Pendleton responded, "Flat-out no."
Santarsiero said, "At the end of the day, sincerity is most important."