Bill Clinton Makes His Own Fashion Statement At Democratic National Convention

Bill Clinton_DNC_1 - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Bill Clinton_DNC_1 - Getty - H 2016

What he wears matters, too.

When potential First Gentleman Bill Clinton took to the stage to campaign for wife Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Tuesday night, most viewers were probably not scrutinizing what he was wearing, a navy suit, white shirt with spread collar and bright blue silk tie with subtle tonal pattern.

But they should have been. Because that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for female presidential spouses from Martha Washington, who made sure to keep a fashionable look without the appearance of abundant luxury, to Michelle Obama, who wore a low-key cobalt blue Christian Siriano dress for her DNC speech Monday night.

The fashion industry is a multi-trillion dollar business that employs more than 1.8 million people in the United States, so the fashion choices of the First Gentleman, the First Lady and the President matter.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Bill Clinton, as her spouse, will likely take on a supporting role, as he has done in the campaign. But unlike most presidential spouses, who are largely strangers to the public before moving into the White House, Bill Clinton is a known quantity. His clothes don't have to do the talking for him because he's already been on the public stage for more than 40 years, warts and all.

Which is not to say he doesn't think about it. Over the years, Clinton has worn plenty of American labels, including suits by Chicago-based Hart Schaffner Marx, Rochester, NY-based Hickey Freeman and New York City-based Donna Karan (before the men's business closed).

He’s shown his support for American manufacturing by sporting a “Built in Detroit” Shinola watch, and actually purchased 13 of them, mostly the Runwell style, after touring the Shinola factory in Detroit in 2014. (This was before Shinola was called out by the Federal Trade Commission for failing to meet the made-in-the-USA standard; the watches are assembled here, but some parts are made overseas.)

What kind of impact, if any, could his wardrobe choices have on the American fashion industry?

Let’s look at Michelle Obama to start. A study released by David Yermack, professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business, found that for 189 public appearances the First Lady made between November 2008 and December 2009, she generated about $2.7 billion in value for the brands she wore, including US labels J. Crew and Liz Claiborne, and European labels, too. To put a more specific number on it, for a generic brand, it would be worth $38 million to have First Lady Michelle Obama wear their clothes, Yermack found. 

Could Bill Clinton have the same style power?

Yermack is not optimistic. "He is already too well known, and he had ample opportunity to establish himself as a fashion icon during his eight years as president. That never happened," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "In the future, it might be different for another first husband. "

"Also, it seems obvious that as a former fashion model, [Melania] Trump may have a large impact on the apparel industry if her husband is elected," Yermack added.

By their nature, most men’s fashion choices aren’t as splashy as women’s. (A blue business suit, even if it’s a nice cut by Hart Schaffner Marx, isn’t as likely to create a social media and buying frenzy as First Lady Michelle Obama's Tracy Reese pink brocade dress, or potential First Lady Melania Trump's white Roksanda Ilincic dress for that matter.)

And even the most diehard Bill fans would probably agree, he's not a glamorous as the current First Lady, who has appeared on the cover of Vogue twice. (Hillary Clinton was the first first lady to appear on the cover of Vogue, in December 1998. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have covered laddie mag GQ's Man of the Year issues.)

So far during the convention, it’s a far humbler fashion statement that has drawn attention for Bill Clinton, at least on social media--a friendship bracelet. It was a gift from Los Ninos del Vallenato, a Colombian band that performed at the White House during his presidency, according to The Independent. The head of the group was later kidnapped and murdered by Marxist rebels. Clinton wears the string bracelet to show solidarity with the Colombian people.

Which may say a lot about his current role--and how he would like to be perceived--not as a former president or even a would-be First Gentleman, but as a global humanitarian.