Sizing up the Candidates: Paul Ryan vs. Joe Biden Sartorial Debate

PHOTO: Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, challenge each other during the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky.

"Taste is the fundamental quality which sums up all the other qualities. It is the nec plus ultra of the intelligence." Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont (1846–1870), French author, poet.

As Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden faced off in their Vice Presidential Candidates Debate on Thursday, I decided to pay particular attention to the non-verbal presentation and communication of the VP candidates on the screen (the verbal part of it mostly just confuses me).

A man says plenty with his clothes, anyways. Most of our body is covered by it; it's pretty much the first thing people notice about us; and when pointing out a stranger in a crowd, we almost always identify them by something they're wearing.

For those of you that are still skeptical – go into 10 nice restaurants in jeans and a t-shirt and ask to use the restroom, now do the same in a suit and tie. Think you'll have the same success rate? Clothes matter, and in an arena like politics, where so much of what is said is subject to asterisks, gray areas, revision, and sometimes even fact-checking from your own campaign, it doesn't hurt to present yourself properly and say the right things when you're not actually speaking.

The VP Candidates debate was no different. Though on first glance both men wore dark suits with ties that represented their parties' colors, and then sat down and talked a lot, a careful study of the tape shows that the sartorial debate was raging too, and for two men so concerned with cuts and breaks, I found plenty to discuss.

We know that Ryan, a workout fiend and P-90X devotee, has broad shoulders and, as Time magazine just pointed out, a very admirable body - but you'd never be able to tell in this suit, cause you can't actually see where his shoulders are. This common sartorial issue comes from the tradition of men heavily padding the shoulders of their jackets in order to broaden and exaggerate the horizontal line of the shoulders. On a well-cut, British-style suit, this creates an illusion of upper body strength and pectoral size.

On a poorly-cut, off-the-rack suit, it creates an illusion of the wearer swimming, and sometimes drowning, in his own clothing. Biden's shoulders are also padded (politicians favor this style of suit as I hear they love to present "bigger" and "larger" versions of themselves to the public), but notice how the padding doesn't extend beyond his natural shoulder-line. You can actually tell where his arms are when he moves, and despite having a smaller and probably "less-TMZ-worthy" body than Ryan, he actually looks more like the defined one in his clothing, whereas Ryan looks like he borrowed his older brother's suit for senior prom night. Notice Biden's lapels, flat on his chest even as he moves his arm out. I wonder if he's pointing at how Ryan's lapels are sticking out from his body, maybe in an attempt to flee the scene.

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