When he’s not the subject of traumatizing Google searches or the latest darling of America’s social conservatives , Rick Santorum wears another hat: fashionista.
Santorum’s personal uniform of late, a sweater vest over a collared shirt, has sparked increasing social media attention, including a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a YouTube music video called “Sleeves Slow Me Down.” And with phrases including “Ninjas only wish they had such covert superpowers” and “Meet your demise terrorism” attributed to the garments, “the vest” has even begun to acquire its own cult of personality akin to that surrounding Chuck Norris’ tongue-in-cheek machismo.
On Fox News Tuesday, he told Laura Ingraham that he began wearing the vests consistently after a speaking event in mid-December. “If there was one event that really began the moment, it was that speech,” he said. “So all the sudden the sweater vest was like, ‘Fear the vest.'”
So what’s in a vest?
In an interview with Business Insider, Hendrick Pohl, men’s fashion expert and CEO of ties-necktie.com, said that the uniform helps to create Santorum’s personal brand. And while the online hype increases the candidate’s visibility and youth appeal, the impact of this casual look on Santorum’s image, he says, might not be all positive.
Of course, Santorum is not the only politician who regularly dresses down. Mitt Romney often wears a sweater over a collared shirt in informal talks. But that combination, Pohl says, is “a little bit more conservative and a little bit more businesslike than having a sweater vest.”
“I think as a politician you should always dress a bit more on the conservative side,” he said. “You don’t want to make fashion statements, you don’t want to stand out too much.”
While Ingraham said that the vest may win him some support — “People find it endearing. They kind of like it.” — in the long run, Pohl says the sweater vests could send the wrong message.
“It looks like he’s having a drink at a golf club,” says Pohl. “It just doesn’t look like he’s at work.”
Pohl says to keep an eye on Santorum’s fashion choices: he might abandon the vest in other states after Iowa to reflect voter tastes. No matter what he decides, Pohl says, his vest status won’t be an accident.
“They don’t just randomly pick something,” he says. “They put some thought into it. They have somebody advising them about it.”
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