These are a few of the memorable markers where traditional styles resonate when associated with politicians.
And when it comes to running for president, the clothes must convey an air of authority and confidence when candidates are addressing American voters. Barack Obama and John McCain both look the part when it comes to wearing suits, with subtle differences in their individual styles.
Obama, ranked fourth in Esquire's best-dressed men in the world last year, favors a light blue tie, perhaps in recognition of his college alma mater, Columbia University. The tie contrasts well with his suits and has a subliminally calming effect when he communicates with others.
During his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Thursday, Obama wore a red striped tie. His visual appearance set the tone for an authoritative message to the masses.
McCain's style of dress is like a pro golfer's tee shot landing consistently in the middle of the fairway: Nothing fancy but very well played. McCain looks solid in a suit, sometimes opting for an orange tie for contrast. His casual presentation includes a button-down shirt with a navy blazer and sweater. The look is conservative, very Brooks Brothers-ish.
Whatever his appearance, McCain clearly is comfortable in his clothing. It's as straightforward as the way he talks. Expect McCain to come out well-suited when he formally accepts his party's nomination for president during the GOP convention in Minnesota on Sept. 1-4.
Let's break down why traditional clothing works, starting with the jacket. The padded, squared-off shoulder that is characteristic of English tailoring gives the wearer a more majestic appearance, whereas the unstructured, rounded shoulder made popular by Giorgio Armani offers a more natural, casual look. The former is best in formal settings, while the latter is better suited for outdoors or in town meetings.
Blue and gray are the power colors of choice for jackets year round; tan can be worn during the summer. Medium-weight wool can be worn year-round, but in regions with higher temperatures, cotton would be a practical option.
The white or light blue shirt provides a basic contrast to the dark suit jacket or blazer, and allows for the tie to stand out. White or light blue cotton solids go with anything. There are other light colors (gray, lavender, pink, green, yellow) and patterns, of course, but white and light blue solids are the standard.
The tie anchors the relationship between the jacket and shirt, and sets the tone for how serious the candidate wants to be. Deep reds and blues are seen most often on politicians including Obama and McCain, though Obama's selection of light blue is gaining notice. It softens his look as a personable individual who is running for president, especially when he addresses the media.
Trousers that are not part of the suit are still a solid color, as McCain has been seen wearing on various occasions. Tan and gray make for the best contrasts with a navy blazer; trousers that are lighter shades of blue are probably better for sailing than for blazing a campaign trail.
Finally, the shoes. Black or burgundy calfskin oxford laceups are the safe bets here. There may be a variation in the soles, where rubber absorbs the impact of walking better than leather soles. (However, according to George Glasgow of British bespoke shoemaker G.J. Cleverley & Co., leather soles allow the foot to breathe easier.)
Shoes cannot be taken for granted; they are among the first things that are looked at by others when forming a first impression. Shoes must be polished in order to finish the look from head to toe.
Speaking of heads, the hat seems to have faded away from presidential pates over time. Lyndon B. Johnson was perhaps the last president to be known for his signature roadster hat. We can go all the way back to the 1800s and the top hat of Abraham Lincoln, an item that you might see at state dinners calling for white tie and tails.
The black fur-felt fedora is a lasting element of style. It worked for Clark Kent and FDR, but since John F. Kennedy removed his during his inauguration in 1960, the fedora not been seen too often on U.S. presidents.
Of course, you wouldn't see a president with his hat on indoors during a State of the Union address, but if he's coming off Air Force One with the first lady or other world leaders, it's a nice touch.
Looking presidential is an intangible that cannot be underestimated. As the candidates move into the homestretch of their campaigns toward the general election in November, keep an eye on the attire.