Campaign Essentials

Elements of Style

The Challenge

A woman’s appearance is under a microscope—or perhaps more appropriately, in the headlines—far more often than her male counterparts’. No surprise there. Voters draw complex conclusions about women candidates from their appearances, according to interviews with campaign staff. One finance director reported, “I think she’s so well dressed and so well put together that to some people, that didn’t appeal to them. She was almost ‘perfect.’”

We’ve heard it all: Voters and media alike comment on women candidates’ clothes, lipstick, hairstyles. As one campaign manager put it, “The news would say ‘the candidate appeared before the media in her trademark shapeless skirts’…they would never say ‘our male opponent appeared in his scruffy wingtips and rumpled shirt.’”

What may be surprising, however, are some straightforward ways candidates have minimized the scrutiny.

The Solution

  • Winning candidates develop a look and style that is authentic and appropriate.
  • Women’s power-dressing has evolved past feminized men’s suits to more colorful jackets over sheath dresses and pants. This change reflects the evolution of work wear in general but is particularly applicable to politics.
  • As the saying goes, “Dress poorly and they remember the dress. Dress well and they remember the woman.” Keep it simple and cultivate a collection of go-to outfits that convey power and are also practical.