American society does not exactly encourage politicians — especially male ones — to be edgy or forward-thinking in their fashion choices. If it's debate night, it's time for a conservatively cut suit, a solid-colored shirt, and a tie.
But which tie? That is the big question facing any would-be president, the one area in which some level of options exists.
This graphic represents every tie worn by every candidate at every GOP debate in 2012 and lets us gain some insight into the deep sartorial currents running beneath the political system:
In principle, of course, a great variety of ties are available. In practice, we see that nearly 70 percent of debate ties are either red or blue.
And going candidate by candidate we can see that the red-versus-blue divide familiar from our election maps is also evident in the word of ties. The clash here is not so much ideological as it is temperamental. The boring candidates — Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty — chose blue ties to match their plain vanilla personae, while your Gingriches and Santorums and Perrys opted to spice things up with the somewhat more attention-grabbing red tie.
Herman Cain favored yellow, a clear indicator that despite his brief time as a poll favorite he was always firmly on the fringe. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman showed the greatest variety of tie choices — including various forays into purple neckwear — paralleling the lack of clear strategy that characterized his campaign.