For the first time in a long time, Senator Rand Paul's "fashion sense" turned out to be a negative. While multiple trend pieces have rewarded him for his penchant for turtlenecks, over-sized blazers, and dad jeans, his outfit at a recent Koch brothers event turned off donors.
Politico reported Tuesday that guests criticized Paul's outfit of “a boxy blue blazer, faded jeans and cowboy boots,” for being too “cavalier” for the establishment, suit-and-tie crowd the event attracted. His performance—both his support for tax breaks in low-income inner city neighborhoods and his unpolished, rambling responses—was also a little too relaxed, especially in comparison to Senator Marco Rubio (who wore a “pressed Navy blue suit, crisp white shirt, red tie and American flag lapel pin”).
“This is an older crowd and much more establishment crowd. They are used to a Romney. They are used to a Jeb Bush,” Frayda Levin, a donor and Paul supporter who attended the meeting, told Politico, while another guest said his outfit would have gone over better with a younger audience.
While the event raises questions about Paul's abilities to connect with wealthy donors, it solidifies Paul's commitment to his normcore/man-of-the-people style. If big wig donors think your fashion is younger and less-establishment than Mitt Romney, you're probably doing something right.
That's not to say Paul's fashion sense has received its fair share of criticism. Vogue, the definitive judge of what's hot or not, sniffed at Paul's “dad jeans” in a September 2013 profile. But fashion is constantly evolving, and Paul's look is a little less embarrassing. Nic Screws, Bloomberg Luxury's Style Director, said in an email that Paul's “dress down to dress up” attitude is actually a runway trend now. “If you look at the menswear shows that just walked down the runways in Europe, turtlenecks were by far the number one trend,” she wrote.
And in the political world, his look works. Paul placed ninth on The Hill's “50 Most Beautiful” of 2014 list, despite him telling the paper that his, as he put it, “unconventional and or uncoordinated” style involved his wife forcing him to go back to his closet and change. And while Mother Jones mistakenly called him the best dressed man in Washington last October, it accurately called him the “Nebuchadnezzar of Normcore” the fashion trend that involves “dad-brand non-style” or “embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity,’” according to The Cut.
Even if dressing like a tourist in Times Square wasn't suddenly cool, Paul's average guy style is a means to an end. Normcore might not work with Koch donors, who were expecting Mitt Romney, but as The Hill noted, the last thing potential 2016 candidates want is to come off as the next Mitt Romney. “I walk to Wal-Mart and shop when I’m at Kentucky and home in Bowling Green. We go to Target, Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx like other people,” Paul told The Hill. “We really don’t put on any special airs.”