Republican Fashion Watch: Our reviewer of the hottest trend of 2024 | ET REALITY


Some politicians need no introduction. The rest are running for the Republican nomination for president.

Ron DeSantis has the words “Ron DeSantis” plastered across the chest of his fisherman-style shirts. On sunny days, Tim Scott wears a white baseball cap that says “Tim Scott.” Vivek Ramaswamy’s polo shirts read “Vivek,” and Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson wear hats. and T-shirts with their names.

Even Donald J. Trump (so recognizable that he didn’t need a mugshot after his first three impeachments) wears the famous red hat emblazoned with his name, along with his Make America Great Again slogan.

Leading up to 2024, nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates have become human billboards for their campaigns. It’s a fashion choice that would be more typical of a state lawmaker and hasn’t been seen before on such a broad scale during a national campaign.

Why do candidates do this? For the relatively unknown, it may be a necessity. For others, it may be yet another reflection of the influence of Trump, the branding entrepreneur who leads the polls by a mile.

To be sure, this group of presidential candidates is not the first to wear easily identifiable uniforms. Four years ago, Democratic primary candidates wore the same clothes all the time. You may vaguely remember Pete Buttigieg’s white shirt and blue tie, Elizabeth Warren’s black pants and jacket or cardigan, or Beto O’Rourke’s jeans and sweat-stained button-down shirt.

To get a sense of what these Republican candidates are telling us in their speech suits, I consulted with Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times’ chief fashion critic. Our outfit chat has been slightly edited.

Reid Epstein: Hello Vanessa. Why do you think these candidates feel it is necessary to wear t-shirts and hats with their names on them? If people come to see you when you’re running for president, shouldn’t you expect them to know who you are?

Vanessa Friedman: Everyone understands that what they are selling right now, more than any specific political platform, is the brand that is them. Four years ago, the brand was a little more abstract. Now, in our time of everything on social media, it’s totally literal.

They are using their clothes to present themselves as identifiable people: Do you like a slogan t-shirt? Me too! Especially when it’s my catchphrase on the tee.

Laughed: When Donald Trump first ran, he made red MAGA hats a ubiquitous bestseller. Now its 2024 competitors are taking their own brand a step further. Ron DeSantis hardly goes anywhere without a fishing shirt or a vest that says “DeSantis for President.” At an ice cream shop in Iowa, even his 3-year-old daughter was wearing a T-shirt that said “DeSantis for President.” Don’t we already know who DeSantis is?

Vanessa: Everyone has to put emojis. That is one of Trump’s legacies. He was doing it even before the hat (with the hair, the tan, the too-long ties), but at this point, the hat provokes an almost Pavlovian reaction in anyone who sees it. It is instant semiology, and that is worth its weight in votes. The rest of the Republicans have to distinguish themselves from the rest however they can.

I was surprised by the fact that at the first Republican debate, all the candidates except Nikki Haley were wearing the Trump uniform: red tie, white shirt, and blue suit, making them all look like Mini Me Versions of the guy that wasn’t there. DeSantis’ team is probably an attempt to stand out. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he plastered his name on fishing shirts and fleece vests. Those are uniforms of two very specific constituencies.

Laughed: True, there are plenty of Republican men who spend a lot of time fishing and doing what people in wool vests do. I must admit that I don’t own a fleece vest.

It should make it harder for DeSantis to stand out by wearing his name on his jersey when everyone else does too. That may be a metaphor for his larger problem facing Trump in a crowded Republican field.

Vanessa: Do you know who is famous for wearing fleece vests? The Sun Valley crowd. Many of whom fled to…Florida during Covid. Many of whom DeSantis wants to court for their deep pockets and connections. All of these clothes are attempts at camouflage, ways to unconsciously communicate to specific groups that you share their values ​​because you share their clothing. It sounds silly, but it’s true.

I think the risk in doing so is that you come across as inauthentic, that you are literally trying something on. John Fetterman is fine with his Carhartts and Dickies because they are clearly his clothes. But imagine Mike Pence? He would be ridiculous.

Laughed: Okay, let’s talk about Mike Pence.

Vanessa: And the leather biker vest?

Laughed: At the Iowa State Fair, he wore a blue and white striped shirt. Nameless! But on a previous trip to Iowa for Sen. Joni Ernst’s motorcycle fundraiser, she wore a leather vest with too many patches to count. Including one with her name on it.

Vanessa: It was the most incongruous combination of clothing and person I’ve seen in this campaign, although a photograph of Mike Pence riding with the Hells Angels could add interesting things to his image. For me, Pence’s signature is the perfect, immovable white hair. Also, if at this point we don’t know his name, he has a bigger problem.

Which brings me to…Vivek! What do you think of their brand?

Laughed: No one in this campaign has tried to copy the Trump model more than Vivek. He has distinctive hats (they say TRUTH, instead of MAGA) and wears t-shirts that say “VIVEK 2024.” He fits in with his broader attempt to portray himself as a millennial Trump.

His brand uses his first name, Vivek, which is easier for people to spell (if not pronounce, it rhymes with “cake”) than his last name, Ramaswamy.

Vanessa: Definitely. Additionally, it has made good use of the “V” in terms of design, which is quite catchy (although I am partisan when it comes to V). It reminds me a little of Andrew Yang’s “Yang Gang,” in the same way that Vivek’s “TRUTH” reminds me of Yang’s “MATH.” And it is effective. Whatever happens to him in these primaries, people will remember the symbols.

Interestingly, the only candidate who refuses to play this game, as far as I know, is Chris Christie.

Laughed: I’m not sure Christie has changed her wardrobe much over the years. She still wears shirts with his initials, CJC, emblazoned on the breast pocket and cuffs. In my conversations with Christie before he entered the race, he was very proud of the idea that he was better known than anyone in the field except Trump.

Vanessa: In fact, Christie is recognizable by her reputation and slightly wrinkled self (“I’m a real person, not a media-trained robot!”). Also, his campaign website doesn’t sell any products, which is interesting. He doesn’t have any “Christie 2024” shirts on hand.

Laughed: Lesser-known candidates have much more work to do to present themselves to voters. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas have doubled down: They wear a cap and polo shirt with their names on it. Outside the Iowa State Fair, Burgum, who is very wealthy, had his campaign hand out free T-shirts that said “Who’s Doug?”

Vanessa: Yes, he’s joking about his anonymity, which is a good idea. Humor is always a blessing in politics, although I’m not sure it’s enough in this case.

Laughed: Plus, Doug is a fun name to say. Doug!

Vanessa: Do you remember…Jeb!?

Laughed: We should talk about Trump.

Vanessa: One of the problems with the name merchandising is that it all seems a bit silly. A little cheap (although everything is Made in the USA, according to the candidates’ online stores).

Laughed: Trump’s appearance remains enduring and, like much of his political enterprise, nearly impossible for anyone else to achieve. The ties of power, the hats that declare him both the 45th president (true) and the 47th president (false… for now). The man who put his name on buildings around the world seems above putting it on his own shirt.

Vanessa: He is simply doubling down on his gaze. Everyone made fun of it, but he had the last laugh, because, whether we like it or not, no one can forget it.

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