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The Sartorial Extremes of Bernie and Donald

Bernie wants you to know he could be you, while Donald wants you to think you could be him

When Bernie Sanders appeared at the White House Correspondents dinner, I was curious to see whether or not he’d wear a tuxedo. After all, he’d very proudly stated in the past that he didn't even own one. In an interview with Time when the reporter insisted that, as President, "You have to wear a tuxedo and black ties." He responded, "O.K., let’s set the record straight. I’m not aware in the Constitution — you may be more of a constitutional scholar than I am — I don’t recall the black ties."


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So, to White House Correspondents Dinner, Sanders wore his signature, slightly rumpled suit. Those suits have, as the Washington Post noted, a tendency to look "as if he pressed them under a mattress."

Bernie Sanders wearing a suit a rally

Images: Steve Sands/Getty (left), Scott Eisen/Getty(right)

Meanwhile, I’m not sure if Donald Trump would punch you in the face if you said he didn’t own a tuxedo, but it feels… not unlikely?

Trump is a candidate gives the impression that he would always rather be wearing a tuxedo. Hell, Donald Trump had a line of clothing that made formalwear. They also make French cuff shirts, an article of clothing that should only be worn by businessmen in 1984 who are rushing to meet their mistress at Petrossian (she’s going to tell him she’s pregnant!).

I’m not sure where Bernie was eating in 1984. Probably a Showbiz Pizza.

For more causal, non-black tie occasions, Donald Trump claims to prefers Brioni suits, which retail for around $7,525. The political operative Roger J. Stone claims, "He is a guy who is comfortable in a suit and tie. He likes wearing them. It’s like his uniform. It becomes part of his brand." The Washington Post remarked, "Trump favors suits… He is not the sort of candidate having beers with voters at the neighborhood watering hole, and so he has little use for warm fuzzy sportswear, unless it is golf gear and he is promoting one of his golf courses." His wife Melania explains that even their son, Barron, who is nine, wears suits most of the time.

Donald Trump with wife Melania at the Time 100. Image: Timothy A. Cleary/Getty

No one would say the same of Sanders. People don’t even know what color Sander’s suit is. Mic remarked, "Bernie Sanders' regular attire consists of a relaxed jacket, a light blue shirt and a pair gigantic, pleated pants that puddle at his shoes. They're dad pants, if your dad happens to teach Early American History at Yale."

Given that both men are running for the same office, why does Sanders dress like a retired professor while Donald Trump dresses like a villain who is about to be murdered in A View To a Kill? Largely because Bernie Sanders needs to give the impression of being down to earth and trustworthy and not one of the Wall Street elites. Donald Trump needs to dress like a layman’s notion of a rich man.

Bernie’s campaign appeals to his voters because he gives the impression that, under only slightly different circumstances, he could be them. Trump’s campaign appeals to his voters because it gives the impression that, under only slightly different circumstances, they could be him. In a post-recession age, where many young people are distrustful of big banks and the wealthy 1%, Bernie can’t afford to dress like a banker. His demographic is 20-somethings who are drowning in student debt. Many blame the banks for the fiscal irresponsibility that lead to the recession which, to this day, limits their economic prospects. They are specifically angry at people who are wearing $7,500 suits. If Sanders was wearing Tom Ford, he would look great, but the fact that he was railing against the economic inequality in the country would seem disingenuous. So, instead, Bernie Sanders dresses like a man who, at some time in his life, has been fired. There’s an aspect to his rumpled suits that is almost reminiscent of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, a play Christopher Isherwood described as being about a, "losing battle against spiritual and economic defeat." That's something young people can relate to.

Bernie Sanders at a news conference in D.C. Image: Drew Angerer/Getty

Donald Trump’s voters are also angry that they’re not rich. They just lay the blame with minorities and women, not men who look like Donald Trump. (Largely because, they, themselves, are often men who look like Donald Trump.) Like Bernie voters, they too feel that they have been cheated out of the world they expected. Their fantasy world has less to do with a future where their student loans might be paid off. It has more to do with a return to the early 90’s. They are idealizing a time when everyone said "Merry Christmas!" and a 26 year old white man could hire an assistant and tell her to dress hotter, and no one would complain or even notice that such a man was, perhaps, not a terribly good person.

So, Donald Trump dresses like a man who fires people. He has made his reputation upon being a man who has the power to fire people. That is something many of his voters dream of having the power to do. Trump’s style is comforting to his demographic, perhaps in large part, because it has not changed from the time his voters are nostalgic about. If you look at pictures of him from the early 90’s, Donald Trump is still there in his expensive, slightly too large suits and shiny ties. He might as well be a relic preserved in amber.

Bernie’s suits appeal because they give the impression of a man who may be fraught with concerns but is trudging determinedly onward. Donald Trump’s suits appeal because they give the impression of his being someone who has the rare privilege of continuing to live in the past.

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