TV & Movies

Debate Style: A FLARE Panel Weighs In on Campaign Fashion

We assembled a panel of experts to weigh in on the sartorial choices of our leaders and what that says about their personality

macleans debate

Thomas Mulcair, Stephen Harper, Elizabeth May, Justin Trudeau

A rolled-up sleeve, a fireside sweater vest, a Stampede cowboy hat and bolo tie—every sartorial choice a politician makes is designed to create an image he or she hopes to convey. So, in preparation for the Maclean’s federal election debate, FLARE put together a panel of stylists to assess the candidates’ campaign fashions so far—and to offer advice on how to upgrade their wardrobes. Here, how the potential PMs stack up.

The Style Panel
Kemal Harris, the stylist behind Robin Wright Penn’s powerhouse first-lady looks on House of Cards
Ernesto Martinez, the costume designer who outfits Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s fashion-forward president on Veep
Jeff Podgurny, manager of Garrison Bespoke tailors, which outfits the smoke-show lawyers on the legal melodrama Suits
Jeanne Beker, doyenne of Canadian fashion

Macleans debate

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau
The Liberal leader has a lock on the style zeitgeist. Favouring sleek suits, “He looks really well-tailored,” says Harris. The 43-year-old doesn’t mind appearing fashion-forward, occasionally boasting “a little pocket-square flair,” and leaving a touch of texture in those famous tousled locks. The overall impression given by his on-trend suits is that of modernity, says Podgurny. “He’s really appealing to the younger voter. The art of dressing well includes knowing when not to wear a suit and tie and, again, Trudeau is on top, donning fitted collared shirts (with the sleeves rolled to exactly the right forearm position, so affluence meets approachability) and chinos at informal public appearances. “He’s always dressed properly for the setting,” says Harris.

Style hacks
1. Just show up
Harris: “I think he’s nailed it.”
Martinez: “He’s doing the best job of all the candidates.”

2. Tone down the flash
Podgurny: “To win over older voters, he should err more on the conservative side with accessories. Wear a classic full-width tie in a Windsor knot.”

3. Raid dad’s closet
Beker: “Maybe he should adopt a little more of his late father’s swagger.  I’d like to see him in capes and buckskin jackets!”

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair attends the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 3, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh


Tom Mulcair
The NDP leader is clearly not a tie guy. On the rare occasion when he does don a suit and tie, he looks tentative and uncomfortable, like a cat on a leash. In the plus column, however, his signature dark, two-button suit and white-collared shirt projects a down-to-earth, mildly contrarian Boomer style. Of all the candidates, he looked the most comfortable in his white Stetson and jeans at this year’s Stampede. “He’s the relaxed, approachable guy,” says Podgurny. Not everyone admires a business-casual politician, though. “I don’t think it works,” says Martinez. “Even [California Gov.] Jerry Brown, who’s very casual here, wouldn’t appear without a tie on a campaign trail.”

Style hacks
1. Look up Trudeau’s tailor
Harris: “For menswear, tailoring is the key. I’d look uncomfortable in a tie, too, if I were wearing a shirt and jacket that didn’t fit me properly.”

2. Put on a tie
Martinez: “People find a suit and tie comforting and trusting. Choose navy [for both the suit and the tie]. It’s the new power colour, thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama.”
Podgurny: “If he gets into office, it’s a totally different ballgame. You can’t meet the Pope without a tie.”

3. Lose the beard
Beker: “Not sure facial hair works in favour of those who really want to be completely trusted. The exception, of course, is Santa Claus.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces a government initiative to help assist small and medium-sized businesses to open new markets abroad, in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, March 18 2015. Chris Young/CP

Photo: Chris Young/CP

Stephen Harper
The Prime Minister’s style could best be described as Big Business Functional, or, less kindly, Corporate Cardboard. He favours dark suits and indistinct ties that stand out for not standing out. The effect is significant. “He definitely appeals to real Corporate Canada,” says Podgurny. Harris is unimpressed by Harper’s wallpaper-like ability to blend in with the business elite: “I don’t have a lot to say about his wardrobe. It’s really not anything interesting to me.” Martinez, however, applauds Harper for always looking the part of the businessman at work: “He looks great, and he’s at the age where he shouldn’t change it.”

Style hacks
1. Look alive
Podgurny: “He could use a softer blue shirt, just to bring a little more colour to his face.”

2. Mix the ties
Beker: “Get a little more adventurous in the tie department. I actually bought the Prime Minister a Salvatore Ferragamo dragonfly tie for his birthday once. Wonder if he’s ever worn it?”

3. Call Trudeau’s barber
Harris: “His hair is strange. He has a big, thick, full head of hair, yet it looks like a little helmet on his head. I’m not sure why.”

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May  speaks at Torontoís Day of Action Against Bill C-51 demonstration at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, Ont.  on Saturday March 14, 2015. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

Photo: Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

Elizabeth May
The Green Party leader is hard to pin down, style-wise. On the one hand, she’s refreshingly feminine, choosing shift dresses and flattering V and scoop necklines over the genderless power suit favoured by many of her colleagues. On the other hand, her I-woke-up-like-this hair suggests a plucky refusal to absorb sexist expectations about her appearance. Or maybe, as Hillary Clinton suggested in a recent tweet, she’s doing the best she can and “some days are better than others.” Shapeless silhouettes and harsh colour choices such as red, white and black make her a mite bland and dated. “Nothing she’s wearing is offending me, but nothing is really screaming high fashion, either,” says Harris. Martinez is less diplomatic. “The clothes look cheap. They look like they’re from Macy’s or something.”

Style hacks

1. Update the colour palette
Martinez: “She should choose jewel tones, a great green.”

2. Establish a definitive silhouette
Podgurny: “She’s doesn’t feel confident in her own styles. She would look good in a one- or two-button blazer and either a pencil or A-line skirt.”

3. Modernize
Beker: More modern eyeglass frames and haircut. [Martinez votes for a polished bob]. “A little hipness and a good haircut never hurt anyone.”

4. Stick to your anti-fashion guns
Harris: “It actually endears her to me a little more that she isn’t a fashion plate. Her brain should be focused on the task at hand and not necessarily, ‘Do I look fabulous?’”

*This article originally appeared on 

More Election 2015: 
The Macleans Debate is August 6: Here’s Why It Matters
Election 2015 Issues: A Primer
All Macleans Federal Election Coverage