Hillary Clinton has always gotten flack for her fashion choices. During the years Bubba was in office, she was too conservative, too unfeminine, or downright sexless. (See: the long-sleeved inaugural gowns, the pantsuits and . the pantsuits.) The haircut evolved from conservative soccer-mom bob to a slightly spicier chop as a junior senator. Bizarrely then, a scoop-neck shell/blazer combo on the Senate floor last summer inspired an intense – and hotly debated – Washington Post article by fashion editor Robin Givhan. To be fair, the amount of cleavage shown was probably closer to Mona Lisa than Carmen Electra. But Clintonian cleavage? Sound the alarm.

And what about the male politicos? With Getty and Associate Press databases expanding exponentially each day with images of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, too, it’s time we take a closer look at their sweater vest and necktie choices. We must break the sartorial double standard. Part of it is based on available options. If you’re a man, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple suit – until you start experimenting with the neckwear.

THE SUIT SANS TIEThe suit sans tie

Barack Obama didn’t realize what kind of monster he would unleash with his choice of sharp, business-casual wear. For early appearances while rumors were just swirling about his presidential hopes, and on the cover of his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama rocked the suit-without-a-tie look. But it’s rare that he’s seen without a tie these days – maybe because of the trend he’s inspired. The months following promotion for Hope spawned a number of Obama-wannabes, some less successful than others (re: Mr. Giuliani on a few sweatier days – or maybe I’m just thinking of that PhotoShop-ed Radar magazine cover with Rudy, Hillary and Obama aping last year’s Vanity Fair Hollywood issue cover). The suit without the tie look draws all the attention to the shirt, and if collar is too big, too pointy or – god forbid – sticking out over the lapels, it completely defeats “sharp” and goes straight to schlub. Romney went for the tie-less look while stumping in Grand Rapids yesterday.

THE SWEATER

Romney also topped a tie and collared shirt with a sweater and light jacket. It worked for this week’s mild Michigan weather, but the look was more air-traffic-meets-Mr. Rogers than commander in chief.

But it wasn’t nearly as bad as the fashion crimes in the now-infamous Huckabee family Christmas card. Circulated by political gossip blogs like Wonkette, the family photo taken during Mike Huckabee’s earlier years in Arkansas (pre-100+ pound weight loss) isn’t shocking because he’s surprisingly heftier, and so are his sons. But they’re wearing matching denim shirts. With stripes. And elbow patches. (Mrs., Daughter and Pet Dog Huckabee were thankfully spared – they have on red zip-ups instead.) Whoever first released this photo may have been trying to make a mean-spirited reminder of Huckabee’s less-svelte self, but it hurts doubly as it highlights the family’s horrific fashion sense. Maybe we can blame a gubernatorial personal shopper.

What works on Romney: The man looks good in a suit and tie. Stick with the tie, and try to be photographed more often at various fundraisers – the black tux and bowtie is a never-fail with that salt-and-pepper hair and Midwestern appeal.

What works on Huckabee: Bespoke suits will do him wonders.

COLOR CHOICE

Blue and red are not just the most popular neckwear colors because they’re patriotic. For the enlightened color-reader, red signifies power, dominance, hawkish-ness, while blue is associated with peace, intelligence and trust. (George W. Bush, in particular, seems to favor a paler blue.) Notice what color ties the male candidates wear at the Michigan primary next week, and the color of Hillary’s pantsuit.

What works on Obama: He sticks to the light blues, sometimes venturing into a silvery blue or a darker color with a subtle stripe. Obama gets bonus points all around when accompanied by outspoken – and well-dressed – wife Michelle. And pearl necklaces are quintessential First Lady.

PATTERNS AND CUTS

Unless Hillary’s wearing a patterned jacket like in New Hampshire – a Clinton favorite, if the bloggers ever saw one. She wore the earth-toned jacket with a high collar, embroidered with various foliage. The look, I think, was supposed to be mature, subtle. Unfortunately, she just looked like a Napoleonic carpet bag. At least when she wore it last in December, she paired the jacket and pants with yellow pointed-toe kitten heels. Kind of sexy.

What works on Hillary: Higher, structured collars. Maybe try some stand-out shoes.

There is no greater social magnifying glass than campaign season. From late-spring murmurs the year before to the final wave of attack-ads in November, campaign craziness lets us see our potential presidents’ entire range of emotions and then some. On display, in newspapers, on television and YouTube, we get America-loving and terrorist-bashing (McCain sometimes, Giuliani all of the time), shows of faith (Huckabee, and in red states, Romney), near-tears (Hillary Clinton after Iowa) and real tears (Ed Muskie, 1972) and even too much enthusiasm for the cause (a banshee-screaming Howard Dean four years ago). With the major fashion weeks coming up just as the primary season heats up, why don’t we pay attention to their clothes, too?

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