US Election 2016

Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump: The messages behind the fashion

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton acknowledges the crowd as she arrives on stage during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, 28 July 2016 in Philadelphia. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A white dress code for the road to the White House

Hillary Clinton wore a white pantsuit as the race to the White House passed a key stage. Many column inches have been spent on the image of the candidates and their spouses, almost as much as on their political message. So what were they trying to say, and did it work?

The importance of a candidate's fashion image in a world which revolves around branding and marketing cannot be overstated.

Most candidates, like politicians the world over, employ stylists. It is part of their job, and part of their budget.

Hillary Clinton - pantsuit aficionado

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Hillary's rainbow pantsuits have delighted fellow-pantsuit wearers

In her Twitter biography, Mrs Clinton describes herself as a "pantsuit aficionado".

She will mostly be seen in trouser suits - a businesslike style that would do as well in a boardroom as in the White House.

No surprise then that on the night of her acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, she wore her trademark pantsuit.

It is early days, and no fashionista has yet ventured to name the label, but much has already been made of the colour.

White for purity, white for angelic, white for new and fresh, white for White House.

But also the colour of the suffragettes, as social media users were quick to point out:

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

The message: Mrs Clinton breaking through the US political glass ceiling is the modern-day equivalent of suffragettes clad in white, fighting for women's right to vote.

In the course of her political career, she has learnt to embrace fashion as an essential tool.

"There is no template for how women politicians need to look on political stages. That's where it gets tricky, " The Daily Telegraph fashion director Lisa Armstrong told the BBC.

"But she's pretty much got her look sorted now. She's incredibly groomed, she's on top of her hair," she says, "and that's important because humans are biologically programmed to make very quick decisions. The message is sent across instantly."

Donald Trump - Brioni man

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A male candidate or president will always lose the fashion limelight to his spouse

One week earlier, her Republican opponent Donald Trump made his acceptance speech in the template for male politicians: A simple blue suit, a white shirt, and a Republican red tie.

For male candidates, choices are simpler, scrutiny less harsh.

All he needed was the colours of the US flag, patriotic in style and colour.

Though not, perhaps, in price tag.

Mr Trump has a penchant for expensive designer suits.

One of his favourite labels is said to be Brioni, one of the world's most prestigious couture houses.

You may not be able to tell, but his hair is the product of intensive, expensive styling.

As most politicians know, it is not advisable to spend a lot of money on clothes. And those that do, tend to be criticised for it.

"If a politician wears expensive labels, the public will absolutely eat them alive," stylist Corey Roche told The Business of Fashion magazine.

Hillary Clinton certainly got a dressing down for wearing a $12,485 (£10,000) Giorgio Armani jacket at the New York Primary, revealing her "disconnect from the everyday woman", the New York Post complained.

Image copyright Bloomberg
Image caption Hillary Clinton got lambasted for wearing a $12.000 Armani jacket after her New York Primary victory

But maybe that is only for female politicians.

Donald Trump suffered no such fate.

He also appears to get away with wearing labels that are not fully in keeping with his "making America great again" slogan.

Apart from Brioni, he favours Armani and German fashion house Hugo Boss.

Before Hillary Clinton there were no female presidential candidates, but America's first ladies have always taken to wearing US labels, to support home-grown talent and manufacturing.

Image copyright The Washington Post
Image caption There was much praise for Michelle Obama's simple dress by home-grown designer Christian Siriano

Michelle Obama, for example, has done more than most to promote US designers, wearing Maria Pinto (2008), Tracy Reese (2012), and Christian Siriano (2016) for her speeches at the Democratic Convention.

Luckily for Mr Trump, a male candidate or president will always lose the fashion limelight to his spouse.

Melania Trump - an un-American fashion choice

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Melania Trump's dress was sold out minutes after her speech, but the foreign label was noted

Melania Trump wore a figure-hugging white dress as she spoke to the Republican Convention last week.

She got it on the internet for just over $2,000 (a bargain for some). The style appealed and it sold out minutes after she spoke.

Much has been made of the shape of the dress.

"The Trumps are not afraid of using her sexuality if it helps to win votes," Lisa Armstrong says, pointing at Donald Trump's pride in his wife's breasts, and Melania's history on the catwalk and posing nude for GQ Magazine.

A candidate's wife clearly has a lot more freedom than a female candidate.

Perhaps the most striking thing was that the dress was not by a US designer, but by Roksanda Ilincic, a Serbian-born designer based in London.

It was described as a faux-pas, and had it not been for parts of the speech she was accused of copying from Michelle Obama, the critique would have been harsher and more copious.

Image copyright The Washington Post
Image caption Bill Clinton was dressed in simple blue as he made his speech in support of his wife

Bill Clinton - 'I am with her'

Contrast this with Bill Clinton's low-key fashion appearance as he made his speech to the Democratic Convention on Wednesday night.

Fashionistas are describing his navy blue suit as "a fetching pantsuit".

Other details in his attire included a cobalt blue tie, and a little lapel badge spelling Hillary in Hebrew.

Smart, but not overpowering was the verdict on social media.

The magazine Quartz put it like this: "As a fashion moment, it might have been a little underwhelming, but as a historical one, it was not. Clinton's look stated clearly: I'm with her."

It seems Bill Clinton got his message across.