Fashion's underappreciated role in presidential politics

November 02, 2020

(Carlisle, Pa.) - Does a well-dressed president make for a better president? Yes, says political scientist David O'Connell. According to new research published in the journal White House Studies, O'Connell, an associate professor of political science at Dickinson College who studies American politics with a focus on religion and pop culture, argues style plays an underappreciated role in presidential politics and has meaningful consequences for presidential power.

O'Connell examined first-person memoirs and historical news sources to demonstrate how presidents can accomplish three goals through their style: communicate messages, enhance their political position and identify with important political constituencies. For example: O'Connell also makes an argument for formality. "Better-dressed presidents are more likely to be better presidents since they will avoid the kinds of negativity that have historically greeted presidents who dressed more informally," O'Connell writes.

He points out some presidential style faux pas: While almost no political scientists have analyzed the implications of style, O'Connell argues it is no secret that groups in society often make political statements through what they choose to wear or not to wear. He concludes scholars would be wise to consider style more closely, as there is powerful evidence that appropriately fashionable presidents helped their causes, while style faux pas have done damage to others.
About David O'Connell

O'Connell studies American politics, with his primary interests including the presidency and the roles of religion and pop culture in American politics. He is the author of God Wills It: Presidents and the Political Use of Religion, and his commentary and analysis have appeared in The Associated Press, CNBC, Newsweek, The Hill and the NPR Politics Podcast, among others.

To request copies of the paper, contact O'Connell at

About Dickinson College

Dickinson is a nationally recognized liberal-arts college chartered in 1783 in Carlisle, Pa. The highly selective college is home to 2,300 students from across the nation and around the world. Defining characteristics of a Dickinson education include a focus on global education-at home and abroad-and study of the environment and sustainability, which is integrated into the curriculum and the campus and exemplifies the college's commitment to providing an education for the common good.

Dickinson College

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