Even if Rick Santorum doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, he might have already earned himself an unexpected consolation prize like, say, a spread in the pages of Vogue. Santorum is no Jackie O – and Anna Wintour may never include a dowdy (or dorky) sweater vest in her haute couture bible – but it’s clear that, in his charge to a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses this week, the former Pennsylvania senator unleashed something of a fashion firestorm.
Santorum’s sweater vests have caught the attention of a media horde that, after 13 GOP debates, may have tired of covering actual issues. Sweater-vest stories have appeared everywhere from The New York Times and The Washington Post to Glamour.com and Styleite. “In an interview here on Monday, Mr. Santorum insisted that he was not anti-sleeve,” the Times noted. “He harbors no bigotry toward extra fabric, whether it’s cotton, cashmere or wool.” The vests also have a campaign-sponsored Twitter account, @FearRicksVest, launched on December 17; a Facebook page; Tumblr blog; and a YouTube music video called “Sleeves Slow me Down.”
Santorum told radio host Laura Ingraham that the vests caught on after a mid-December speech he made at an anti-abortion forum where other candidates sported suits. “If there was one event that really began the moment, it was that speech,” Santorum said. “And I think most people recognized that here, so all the sudden the sweater vest was like, ‘Fear the vest.’” Santorum said he began wearing the vests regularly after that, and his staff bought him “a bunch more” – with these vests bearing an embroidered campaign logo.
The vests may have helped Santorum draw a sharper contrast with the more buttoned-down Mitt Romney, who nevertheless still won in Iowa by eight votes. The 53-year-old Santorum also said the garments might make him look more presidential, in a way. "I'm thinking the sweater vest makes me look a little older and that might be a good thing," he told Ingraham.
Then again, Santorum isn’t the only politician to try to stand out sartorially—just one of the relative few to succeed. Take a look at some of the most memorable political fashion statements of recent decades.