Fashion

08.21.12

Paul Ryan’s Fashion Faux Pas: The Baggier the Suit, the Better?

Paul Ryan wears jackets two sizes too big—and he’s been ripped apart for it. But what if, Isabel Wilkinson asks, it’s all part of the plan?

In the nine days since Rep. Paul Ryan was added to the Republican ticket, we have heard his opinions on Medicare, abortion, and the federal budget. But for any American who has watched the vice-presidential candidate circulate a stage, one thing comes across loud and clear: his clothes don’t fit.

When it comes to our politicians, appearances matter. And in an election year where events are carefully orchestrated, messages painstakingly delivered, and everyone perfectly groomed, it's confusing for a svelte 42-year-old to stride onstage in a suit made for an overweight 80-year-old. What, everyone had to ask, is with this guy's style?

Over the past week, political pundits and style critics have had a field day, each sinking their teeth into the VP hopeful with a slew of analogies and comparisons more creative than the next. Women's Wear Daily gave him a C, noting that his jackets made him look “weak and overweight,” Esquire compared his suit to a trash bag, and BuzzFeed Shift suggested that Miley Cyrus wear Ryan’s coat as a dress. “If Mr. Ryan was chosen to bring youth and vigor and a kind of Ayn Rand boldness to the G.O.P., as the commentators kept saying,” wrote New York Times'style critic Cathy Horyn, “then his jacket was killing it.”

Almost all of these takedowns of Ryan's style reflect a befuddlement over the candidate’s open disregard for tailoring. At face value, here is a guy who sends a contradictory message—one simultaneously about maniacal physical upkeep and slovenly attire. The billowing shirts, trunklike fit of the pants, square-toed shoes, and baggy jackets make Ryan look like a cub trying to fit into his dad’s hand-me-downs or a guy who has recently shed a lot of weight and hasn’t yet bought new clothes.

As Bruce Pask, men’s fashion editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, told Horyn of Ryan: “I think he suffers from the misconception that the size a guy wears directly correlates with his masculinity. In their minds, being a 42 is more manly than a 40. And yet what actually happens when a guy wears something too big is the obvious: he looks smaller, dwarfed by shoulders that are too big, a shirt collar that is too roomy, lapels that are too wide.”

William Field, “tailor to the presidents” in Washington, D.C., tells The Daily Beast: “On a number of his suits, the shoulders look broader, which runs the risk of making his head look smaller.” Field says Ryan’s “point to point” measurement is too wide, his collar is too loose and often sloppily undone, and low armholes on his jackets cause a bunching effect at the shoulders when he raises his hand. Field suggests a suit a few shades lighter, consistently wearing a tie, raising armholes on the jackets, and giving all garments a closer fit to the body.

The billowing shirts, trunklike fit of the pants, square-toed shoes, and baggy jackets make Ryan look like a cub trying to fit into his dad's hand-me-downs or a guy who has recently shed a lot of weight and hasn’t yet bought new clothes.

Everyone has their suggestions for the candidate. But could it be possible that Ryan’s disheveled appearance is all part of the strategy? If he cleans up and hires the tailor he needs, he could confuse the very voters he’s trying to woo. “Put the man in a GQ-approved slim-cut, and he intimidates,” writes The New Republic’s Noreen Malone. “Gone is the reliability ... He is no longer the Midwestern boy next door suddenly thrust into this crazy political world. He is a fierce, lean man out to slice your Medicare benefits to skinny-tie proportions.”

Even Field agrees. Sometimes, he says, “turning up in a nice suit could be alienating.”