Ken Bone: Carrying a Great American Tradition Forward

Sweaters. They are a sort of everyman approach to staying warm and projecting a bit of style. Far more upscale than a mere sweatshirt or hoodie, a sweater keeps you warm while projecting a sense of down home candor and honesty. Suits can be stuffy, sweaters are friendly. Perhaps that’s why American presidents and presidential candidates have at been known to adopt the sweater as an occasional uniform for the job.

Ken Bone, the refreshingly honest participant in Sunday night’s presidential candidate townhall forum in Missouri, has rocketed to internet fame thanks to his candid question and snazzy red sweater (apparently made by Izod and bought at Kohls in Wausau, Wisconsin). But far from being an aberration in presidential political fashion, Bone’s red sweater (which he wore because he split the pants on the olive suit he originally intended to wear) is carrying a great American tradition forward.

Here’s a quick visual survey of the sweater in American presidential politics.

Who can forget Sen. Rick Santorum’s ubiquitous sweater vest during the 2012 GOP presidential primary? The Pennsylvania senator’s near-constant wear of a sweater vest prompted his campaign to sell versions of the sweater sporting the Santorum for President logo on the upper left-hand chest.

With first-in-the-nation Iowa known for cold temperatures in the months leading up to its caucus, Sen. Rand Paul could be spotted during this election cycle wearing a sweater from time to time. The look was never as consistent and rote as Santorum’s, but sometimes the combination of turtle-neck and sweater appeared to clash.

Turns out that wearing a sweater won’t actually doom your campaign to defeat, however. At some point in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton thought it would be  good idea to wear a sweater and khakis while on the south lawn of the White House. Like most fashion ideas from the ’90s, the sweater left a lot to be desired.

Pre-dating the rise of Ken Bone’s red sweater was President Ronald Reagan’s red button up sweater with a classy shawl collar. Reagan was also photographed wearing a festive red sweater around Christmas at the White House.

President Jimmy Carter regularly wore sweaters, perhaps as part of his attempt to project himself as an average citizen who was taking the reigns of government after the shadow of Watergate cast the Oval Office into gloom.


Ever the definition of “preppy,” President John F. Kennedy, both as senator and president, made sure “Camelot” wouldn’t be just about feminine class but would also be associated with upscale New England style.



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Brian Sikma

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