Presidential candidates Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are walking across a fashion tightrope.
How do they put forth their best images without being too distracting? Just look at the enormity of their sartorial jobs: Both men have to look compassionate, yet strong. Romney must be careful not to look too much like a wealthy one-percenter, while President Obama can't come across as too forceful, yet he must be presidential.
In the first debate, President Obama opted for a navy blue Hart Schaffner Marx suit, while Romney went with a cleaner, stronger black. His American flag lapel pin beamed larger than life.
Romney's aggressive stance knocked Obama's more-leveled approach out of the box.
For the second debate, both candidates chose black suits. This was a clear case of alpha males facing each other, and for many, the debate was considered a draw.
This is why Monday's debate is considered to be so important. What look will the candidates go for during this third and final verbal sparring match centered around foreign policy? Clearly both men must project no-nonsense, yet compassionate images. How will they get their messages across? Will Obama chose a bigger flag lapel pin? Will Romney wear a softer charcoal grey? Will the candidates' ties err on the side of somber, or will they pick ones with more non-partisan palettes?
Whatever visuals they select will stick with us for a while. Aggressive use of social media alongside the creation of memes from this year's race seem to bear lasting impressions on how we see the candidates.
"We are at a stage now [in the election] where it's all about presentation," explained Tom Burrell, chairman Burrell Communications, a Chicago-based firm that helps the high-powered craft images.
Richard Bates, chief creative officer of The Brand Union, a New York-based image and branding firm agrees. He added that certainty, composure and coolness must drive the candidates' fashion choices.
"The biggest issues in this debate are strength and confidence," Bates said about the candidates image issues. "Who do we believe is confident enough to bring us through the next four years? How will they show us that strength?"
We'll see Monday evening.
For more about how fashion played the biggest role it's ever played in presidential election season, please see my column in Wednesday's Style & Soul.