Project Campaign Trail: The Basics

Oct 4, 2010

In just a matter of days, I and my Capitol Hill brethren will depart the District in our never ending quest for job security. I am speaking, of course, about Campaign Trail Exodus 2010.

The campaign trail can be an inhospitable wasteland.  You live out of a suitcase, eat food that even a frat boy would spurn and sleep less than you did in college.  In this difficult environment, dressing for success can be challenging if not down right impossible.   But fear not, there is hope.

For the rest of this week, all of the afternoon posts will consist of campaign style advice.  Hopefully, they will help you pack for the long, stressful weeks ahead.  

Rules of Thumb. When it comes to choosing a style for the campaign trail, you should always follow your candidates lead. If he/she is wearing a suit, so should you. If he/she dresses casually, so should you.  The elected official (or challenger) sets the tone, follow it.

Unfortunately, many campaign staffers take the casual nature of the trail a bit too far. 

Casually Neglectful.  No matter what the volunteers are wearing, you are a professional and a representative of the campaign. So, you shouldn’t wear anything on the trail that you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing to the office.  Think of the trail as one really long casual Friday. 

To that end, business casual does not include any of the following items: ripped jeans, yoga pants, graphic tees, flip flop sandals, Uggs or Crocs. Exceptions can be made for T-shirts and jersey sweatshirts, but only if they bare the logo of your candidate or party.

Must have casual items for the trail include a fashionable pair of flats, dark wash denim, corduroys, casual blazers, quality cotton tees, and knit sweaters. Tights are also invaluable for those days when you don’t have time to shave but don’t have clean slacks to wear.

Survival of the Fittest.  It’s critical that everything you’re bringing fits you properly. If a pair of khakis is a bit tight today, they will be sealed to your thighs like a sausage casing after two weeks of beer and pizza. And jeans that are even a smidgen too long will have their hemlines decimated by endless hours of knocking on doors. 

If you’re not 100% sure that item fits you, then don’t pack it.  More than once, I have “tossed in” a pair of too snug jeans or a too long skirt and thought, “Maybe I’ll wear it.”  Inevitably, the item never leaves the suitcase and just takes up valuable space.

Fresh as a Daisy.  Campaign workers should also take care that their clothes are clean smelling, stain free and wrinkle free. While resources on the trail are limited, Tide pens, Downy wrinkle releaser, and Febreeze are your best friends.  And if you’re going to be bringing a lot of dry clean only pieces, stop at a local Wal-Mart and pick up Dryel.  

In 2006, I made GOTV calls from a laundromat while my attire steam cleaned in the dryer.  It’s called multi-tasking.

Costumes is Bad.  Lastly, it’s critical that you don’t use the campaign as an opportunity to play dress up. You shouldn’t wear Hawaiian print shirts, LL Bean plaid, Wranglers, cowboy boots or a Stetson if you don’t normally.  There is a big difference between dressing like the local voters and dressing like a poseur. And putting on a costume to go talk to the masses is going to make any authentic farmer, cowboy, beach bum, or outdoorsman feel patronized and insulted.

If you can follow the candidates lead while maintaining your own sense of style, then you’re in good shape. But it’s important to remember that while you want to be comfortable, you need to remain professional.  No one should ever walk into campaign HQ and mistake you for a volunteer.  

Project Campaign Trail

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  1. Angie says:

    Great post! I would make one small correction though: it's “bear the logo of your candidate or party.”

  2. Angie says:

    p.s. this is not to disparage your writing (re: earlier post)! i'm amazed you are able to write such excellent commentary on fashion scoop while working two other jobs. i certainly i know i couldn't do it.

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