When Paul Ryan was thrust into the national spotlight a few weeks ago, there was widespread shock — not shock that Mitt Romney had chosen the conservative Republican congressman from Wisconsin to be his running mate, but that the vice presidential candidate had chosen such sloppy attire for his big day.
Aboard the USS Wisconsin in Virginia, Mr. Romney looked cool and confident in his slim-cut white shirt, sleeves rolled in a "let's get to work" way, and sleek, light blue tie. His new running mate, on the other hand, already seemed defeated — by his wardrobe.
It's not that Mr. Ryan's clothes were uninspired — after all, male candidates can't get too creative aside from ties, which are generally best if they're red or blue. It's that his clothes were oddly oversized.
Mr. Ryan's dark suit was at least two sizes too large, sagging awkwardly on the physically fit 42-year-old's frame. His white shirt was flapping and billowing, even under the jacket, and he did not wear a tie for this momentous photo op.
Across the country, fashion critics wondered, sometimes quite brutally, why Mr. Ryan's clothes were so darn big, and what it meant, if anything. Esquire, for example, snickered at the House Budget Committee chairman's "trash-bag black suit with a silhouette that would be great — if you were Herman Munster."
His accessories were noteworthy, too, and not in a good way. His shoes had a square toe, which the fashion trade publication Women's Wear Daily said is "one of the most grievous mistakes a man can make."
"I swear to God I also think he is wearing a plastic belt," concluded Republican political consultant Roger Stone in a Huffington Post column.
Rick Santorum's much-maligned sweater vests were old news as the critics wondered if Mr. Ryan would be better suited for his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
While the candidate's suit on Wednesday did seem to be slightly closer to his real size, his attire was business-as-usual and, frankly, passe. His boxy suit, gaping shirt, and massive, shiny tie could have been pulled from Newt Gingrich's 1990s wardrobe. To be clear, you don't want to look like your clothes were pulled from Newt Gingrich's wardrobe in any year.
Wednesday's suit was a minor improvement — almost any suit would have been — but it was still no extreme makeover, perhaps intentionally. Mr. Ryan would have dazzled in a tailored suit and skinny tie, but a ticket with two sartorially dazzling candidates might turn off ordinary American voters who don't have a lot of money to go shopping these days.
And more importantly, his complete disregard for fashion lends credibility to the budget hawk's frugal rhetoric — if he won't spring for a new suit, or even a nip and tuck at the tailor, you can bet he won't squander taxpayer dollars, either.
Still, it's baffling that a young man who works so hard on his physique doesn't work a little bit on his clothing too — and that a candidate who pays close attention to every detail of the budget missed key details on one of the most important days of his life.
Mr. Ryan does not need to be a fashion plate, but he does need to dress the part of second-in-command, not a wide-eyed College Republican in a rented suit. It's an amateur look, to put it bluntly, especially next to Mr. Romney and his Democratic opponents.
In a sharp suit and shoes, however, Mr. Ryan would look the part of the formidable budget-hacker you wouldn't want to cross.
He'd create jobs and economic growth, too, by visiting a local mom-and-pop tailor to fix his existing clothes, or by buying new clothes at one of Washington's many reasonably priced men's retailers like Brooks Brothers or the new Charles Tyrwhitt, an import from London's Jermyn Street, home of some of the world's best tailoring.
There's nothing superficial about candidates choosing to dress well — indeed, they should, as the very visible leaders of our great nation. Besides, the path to prosperity should have a little style.