In New Campaign Store, Hillary Clinton Softens Image With Pantsuit T-Shirt

It's smart branding, but will it work?

Hillary Clinton is a well-known and self-described "pantsuit aficionado." Now, the former Secretary of State, currently campaigning to be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, is capitalizing on that sometimes-mocked sartorial signature.

The Hillary for America Shop launched Tuesday on Clinton's campaign website, and among the American-made products, from campaign tees to bumper stickers, is one that's getting the most attention: the $30 "Everyday Pantsuit Tee"—and marketers are calling the gimmicky garment a success.

"It made me laugh," said Britt Fero, head of strategy at Publicis Seattle. "Some of Hillary's problems in the past have been relatability, and I think that hurt her in the last election. So, it's interesting to see her do something that shows she can poke fun of herself and be self-deprecating."

Steven Levitt, president of the Q Scores Company, which measures the consumer appeal of brands and celebrities, said the T-shirt was a bold step for Clinton and one he's never seen from a political candidate before. It also makes the pantsuit part of the Hillary Clinton brand something fun that's on her own terms.

"They're thinking, 'Let's try and be like a consumer brand rather than a hard-nosed political figure,'" Levitt said. "'Let's try and soften up what may be a hard image, and let's really treat it like a brand.'"   

The shirt's design includes a strand of pearls, a campaign pin on its left lapel and the words "Pantsuit Up" on the back. The shop notes, jokingly, that pantsuit bottoms are sold separately.

But, while a light-hearted, kitschy tee may help soften Clinton's image, Fero doesn't think it will help sway young voters.

Levitt cautions that the Clinton campaign might need to go further if the goal is to change her brand. "If [proceeds are] going into the campaign chest, I think that's going to put a negative damper on it," he said. "If, on the other hand, the profits went to fight world hunger, that would make a much more positive statement." 

All purchases are considered campaign contributions under Federal Election Commission regulations, the website says.