- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

For Sen. Bernard Sanders, the suit doesn’t make the man — but it helps make the message.

Political analysts say the 74-year-old White House hopeful’s political success can’t solely be attributed to his clear, powerful anti-Wall Street message, which centers on themes of income inequality and an ascendant billionaire class that’s crushing average families.

Instead, Mr. Sanders seems to have succeeded in marrying message with persona; the Vermont senator has become famous for his rumpled look, unkempt hair and often ill-fitting suits.

The Sanders look, specialists believe, is a vital part of his appeal and helps drive home the notion that he’s a man of the people, not beholden to corporate America and anything but vain.

Observers say it’s impossible to deny that his look goes hand in hand with his message — an especially important one-two punch in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, streaming video and other portals that allow voters to see more of their presidential candidates than ever before.

“He looks as if he’s still talking socialist politics at the University of Chicago in 1964. And that, for a lot of people, is a part of his appeal,” said David Greenberg, a professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. “I’m sure Bernie Sanders puts considerable thought into his style and how he comes across. I also think it’s the case that he’s probably a guy who doesn’t spend money on clothes and doesn’t brush his hair. And if people like that, so much the better.”

Indeed, the Sanders campaign doesn’t argue with the idea that the senator can sometimes look disheveled. But the campaign also tacitly acknowledges his appearance helps project an aura of authenticity often missing in presidential politics.

“He is who he is,” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Whatever the political ramifications of Mr. Sanders‘ wardrobe choices, there’s no denying his style is attracting attention.

Last week the New York Daily News ran a piece on Mr. Sanders‘ clothing, specifically pointing out — with photos — that he appears to have worn the same suit, shirt and tie during his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire primary and during a breakfast meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton the next morning in New York City.

“He’s on the biggest stage in the world, and when you’re in that position, you should have a team of people who handle your garments,” fashion designer Isaiah Garza told the Daily News last week.

But for many voters, Mr. Sanders‘ appearance simply underscores the type of candidate he is. In New Hampshire last week, some voters — especially younger voters, who have flocked to the senator — said Mr. Sanders has cultivated an appealing anti-politician vibe.

“He’s just a bit of an oddball, whereas Hillary [Clinton] comes off as dry,” said Eric Murry, a 21-year-old business major at the University of New Hampshire.

Analysts also say that Mr. Sanders, a highly accomplished politician who has spent 25 years in Washington, surely is aware that his garb is becoming an important part of his image.

“It’s become an element of his political persona,” said Matthew Dallek, an assistant professor of political management at George Washington University. “I don’t want to overstate this. I don’t think people are considering him because of the clothes he wears or his rumpled persona. But in the same way that [Donald] Trump uses profanity to tell people that he is like them, that he’s authentic, Sanders has his own schtick I think it’s part genuine to who he is, and I also think this is something that is working for them politically.”

While some fashion designers seem to think Mr. Sanders should overhaul his closet, specialists say such a move would carry its own risks and could work against the idea of authenticity.

Mr. Greenberg, for example, pointed to former GOP presidential candidate and multimillionaire Mitt Romney wearing jeans on the campaign trail in 2012.

“Instead of looking like a man of the people, he looks like someone who is trying to look like a man of the people. That’s a hazard,” Mr. Greenberg said.

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