NEW YORK — The sea of red was undeniable: Lisa Murkowski, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul.
Of course, we’re not talking states or party affiliations here. We’re talking wardrobe.
Maintaining a longtime tradition, many politicians wore the power color red for their Election Day appearances at the polls, podiums and on TV. And it wasn’t just a nod to the GOP territory expanding on electoral maps. Barbara Boxer and Andrew Cuomo were among the Democrats in red.
“Red is a very exciting color, physically,” says Ellen Evjen, instructor of color theory at Parsons The New School for Design. And party affiliation aside, the color makes a much clearer visual statement than Democratic blue, which is a close cousin of black, she explains.
Evjen also notes the psychological associations with red — passion, immediacy, urgency and, in Asian cultures, luck. Blue, meanwhile, is seen as more spiritual.
On the night Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, he wore a red tie and Michelle Obama wore a mostly red dress by Narciso Rodriguez. But when the Huffington Post chronicled President Obama’s ties during his first 50 days in office, there were more blue ones than red, 42.5 percent to 30.
Virginia-based image consultant Sandy Dumont says Obama shouldn’t wear light blue ties, in particular, because they carry a message that’s too “country club.” She had the same advice for former President George W. Bush.
“Red is an action color. We instinctively go for red for energy, drive and action,” Dumont says. “When people wear red — the people who pass you on the street or down the hall — they stand taller.”
Nancy Reagan made the red power suit her signature as first lady, and Sarah Palin is often photographed in red, including a red leather jacket worn on the campaign trail when she was candidate for vice president.
If the “power color” reputation sounds silly, consider a study by two British anthropologists at the University of Durham who looked at four individual combat events at the 2004 Olympic Games and found that athletes wearing red gear won more often. Red seemed to confer a similar advantage in a preliminary analysis of the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament.
Tuesday night, Paul, the senator-elect from Kentucky, wore a red tie and was surrounded by a red-clothed clan during his victory speech, while New York governor-elect Cuomo, who comes from one of the bluest states, also did the red-tie thing.
“Red ties vs. blue? I’m happy if politicians color coordinate. In reality, being the best dressed candidate really pales in comparison to being the best policy candidate,” says Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis. “But I guess a nice tie can’t hurt.”
Republicans Susana Martinez, the governor-elect in New Mexico, and Mary Fallin, soon-to-be governor in Oklahoma, proudly wore electric blue, a shade normally favored by Hillary Clinton.
The most successful uniform for a man in politics is the combination of a white shirt, red tie and blue suit, “It’s how you move up the ladder,” Dumont says.
For a woman, though, Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the Tobe Report, a fashion trend consultancy, says she should put on her statement-making red suit or at least red accents.
“I don’t know a woman who wants to be really strong in a meeting who would say, ‘I’m going to wear my flat shoes and my blue suit,'” Moellering says. “But if I were going in front of a jury, I’d wear the blue and not red.”