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Who's leading the GOP race in style points

Anyone familiar with the 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon knows that the American public doesn't always vote for a candidate simply because of one's stance on hot-button issues.

Instead, the first televised presidential debate helped quell voters' fears that the 43-year-old Kennedy, who appeared polished next to Nixon's unshaven and perspiration-covered face, was too inexperienced for office.

That moment has been credited as the specific point in time when television began to play a key role in politics — a fact that remains true 55 years later.

Jeb Bush formally announces his presidential bid in Miami, June 15, 2015.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Jeb Bush formally announces his presidential bid in Miami, June 15, 2015.

Although the way a candidate appears to the public remains important, cultural shifts have changed what makes a candidate appeal to voters. Among them, a more casual culture that has led to politicians dressing down on the campaign trail, in an effort to connect better with voters.

Just think of Jeb Bush's decision to skip the suit jacket when announcing his decision to run, or the "Make America Great" hat that Donald Trump wore while in Texas.

"It used to be that a candidate could never be on the campaign trail without a suit and a tie," said Mark Calder, creative director of American luxury fashion brand Robert Talbott. "[Now] they want to look like they're part of society, not aloof or above society."

Though many Americans expect candidates to show similar financial restraint when selecting attire for a debate, Calder said it's important they still dress professionally to show respect for the office.

He recommended wearing a dark, fitted suit, as a somber color shows that the candidate takes the office seriously, whereas a tailored look portrays a message that he or she is well put together and takes care of his or her body.

It's also important for candidates to select clothing that is well-made but not ultra luxurious because spending too much on an outfit can appear frivolous and disrespectful to middle class and lower-income Americans. And it goes without saying that they should show their patriotism by choosing an American designer, Calder said.

"It's important to buy American product," he said.

And with women now a mainstay on the campaign trail, Calder said former HP executive Carly Fiorina and Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton should follow the same style cues as their male counterparts: keeping things elegant and refined.

Overall, he said that most of the candidates have been playing it safe, though there has been one standout. He gave top honors to Republican hopeful Ben Carson, citing his penchant for a dark-color suit with a classic pinstripe.

"He's not afraid to wear something that has a little personality but is still very classic ... and makes a statement that [he's] serious," Calder said.