GOP Debate: There’s More to a Candidate’s Tie Than Meets the Eye

Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Herman Cain wore yellow. Mitt Romney sported light blue. Newt Gingrich switched it up with stripes. And Rick Perry, well he’s a red tie kind of guy.

While a presidential candidate’s tie color rarely makes post-debate headlines, the tie he chooses to wear around his neck can send as much of a message as the words he chooses to come out of his mouth.

“There is a whole psychology of colors,” said men’s fashion expert Hendrik Pohl, the CEO of “A lot of people may not really consider it that much when you pick out a tie color, but in politics I’m certain you do.”

Romney, for example, is a big fan of the classic light blue tie. The former Massachusetts governor has worn blue to seven of the eight  major debates so far, including the CNBC debate Tuesday night. Blue is one of the safest and most common tie colors for politicians because most people associate well with blue, Pohl said.

“Blue is the color that people most commonly name as their favorite color and it has very calming effect on people,” Pohl said. “A blue tie is very good choice.”

Color aside, Romney’s consistency may also be intentional. As the candidate who is most often accused of flip-flopping on policy issues, his wardrobe can reinforce an image of dependability.

“Someone may want to wear a similar outfit so that people know when they are watching a debate they are going to have a sense of similarity, that someone is consistent,” Pohl said.

When it comes to tie color consistency, Cain is king. Whether he’s attending a debate, a speech or a campaign fundraiser, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO almost always sports a yellow tie, a rare color for a presidential candidate.

Pohl said the choice of a yellow tie is fitting for Cain not only because goes well with his complexion, but also because it reinforces Cain’s message that he is the anti-establishment candidate.

“Everything he says, I think, he really tries to stand out,” Pohl said. “He just wants to grab people’s attention, and wearing a totally different tie color does that.”

But while yellow may be the color of uniqueness, red is the color of boldness, Pohl said.

“Red is considered a power tie, especially the bright reds,” Pohl said. “It is very popular in politics because it is very attention-grabbing. It makes the wearer a little bit more the center of attention.”

After donning a light blue tie for his first debate appearance - after which “Saturday Night Live” made a spoof of a worn-out Perry falling asleep mid-debate – Perry cranked up the volume and has sported a bright red tie at every subsequent debate.

Red ties are a bit of a gamble, though, as red is also associated with “passion” and “caution,” he said.

“If you pick a solid red tie, it could create the image that people want to be too much the center of attention,” Pohl said, adding that red ties “can be associated with having too big of an ego.”

Because Perry has a “such a strong personality,” Pohl said he should consider toning it down a notch in favor of a color like burnt orange that is “a bit warmer” and “friendlier” — “something that, when people look at it, it’s, ‘Hey, I trust this guy.’ … Something a little bit more humbling, I think, would serve him well.”

Maroon may be a good option, or at least Newt Gingrich thinks so. He is the only GOP candidate to wear a maroon tie to a debate, which he has done at three of the seven major debates thus far.

“Maroon is a classic business color because it pairs the shades of bright red, the passion and the power tie that the red portrays, with the maturity and stability of brown,” Pohl said.

Gingrich, along with Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, has a varied history of debate-stage tie colors. He even opted for a bold dark blue-and-yellow striped tie for the Sept. 12 Tea Party Express debate in Florida.

Perhaps the most unusual tie to make an appearance on the debate stage thus far was the pinkish-salmon colored number that Santorum wore to the Sept. 7 debate at the Reagan Library in California.

“Pink is something that is usually is portrayed with romance,” Pohl said. “It shows that someone is sensitive and that someone is very comfortable with their sexuality.”

And while a good tie choice often goes unnoticed, a bad pick is never forgotten.

“If you pick a bad tie, it will definitely have a negative impact,” Pohl said. “In politics, you want to be a little more conservative, a little on the safe side. You want something that is classic, a bit conservative and [something that] has a very professional image that people associate with competence and that shows trust.”