Chief of Style: Personal Appearance and Presidential Power

Document Type


Publication Date



Political Science



Publication Title

White House Studies


This article shines light on style's underappreciated role in presidential politics. By mining secondary accounts, first person memoirs and historical news sources, it argues that presidents can accomplish three goals through their style: they can communicate messages, enhance their political position, and identify with important political constituencies. The primary focus is on the modern presidency, but connections will also be made to presidents who served in an earlier age in order to establish the continuity of these patterns. Further, the article explores some of the complexities behind each of usage of style, such as how clothing can send unintentional messages, or the problems that arise when a president chooses not to dress like their supporters. Finally, it concludes that 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.


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