Rule Number 1: Even if there's two feet of snow and it's freezing outside, never ever wear a sweater under your jacket. John McCain was the worst offender here:
I'm sorry John, you may have won the Republican vote, but to me that sweater just screams 'grandpa'. If it's cold, and you want to look presidential, why not wear an overcoat? (And it's not as if McCain hasn't had problems with sweaters before.)
Rule Number 2 (and the photo above shows McCain breaking this one too): Always wear a tie, especially if you're a man of a certain age. Going tie-less draws attention to those wobbly lines around the neck and, like the sweater, reminds people of your age. Bill Clinton was guilty of the same offence when he appeared open-necked for his notorious 'fairy-tale' speech in New Hampshire. For me, it drove home the message that here was an angry older man resenting the fact that his own time had come and gone:
By contrast, Barack Obama strode through Iowa and New Hampshire wearing a classy suit and tie and looking - well, presidential:
And of all the male candidates, only Barack can get away with the open-necked look. Note to candidates: if you're going to leave the tie at home, make sure you're wearing a tailored suit and expensive shirt - and it probably helps if you're under 50:
Mind you, Obama's easy sartorial image may not be all that it seems. Writing in last autumn's Dissent, David Greenberg described how Barack chose an outdoor setting to announce his candidacy in February and 'struck a Kennedy-esque pose by appearing in a thin topcoat on a freezing day'. What the audience didn't know was that his team had concealed a space heater on the platform. As Greenberg says, it was 'an act of benign contrivance, but contrivance nonetheless.'
Finally, spare a thought for Hillary. If the above rules make it difficult for male candidates to appear presidential, imagine what it's like being the first female candidate. There are no rules, so you have to make up your own. If she's made the occasional fashion error, it's not entirely her own fault: