Marco Rubio has made the critical political mistake of not dressing like a complete schlub. Everyone, it seems, is talking about his kinky boots.

The Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate came close to pulling off an acceptably frumpy look as he boarded his campaign bus in New Hampshire on Monday: mildly unkempt hair; creased black dress pants before noon; a lumpy blue sweater. But Rubio’s decision to don what Vanity Fair delicately dubbed “ statement footwear ” has turned his three-inch heels into a ball and chain.

A chance tweet from a New York Times political reporter and former fashion correspondent spurred snark from Senator Ted Cruz’s communications director (“A vote for Marco Rubio is a vote for men’s high-heeled booties”), teasing from fellow Senator Rand Paul (“Cute new boots!”), and a sideswipe from fellow Floridian Jeb Bush (“They’re not high-heeled”).

“This is straight out of an Austin Powers movie,” laughed MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, in an entire Morning Joe segment devoted to Rubio’s sartorial slip-up. “They’re shagalicious!”

All because Rubio broke the unwritten rule of American campaigning that requires would-be Oval Office occupants to replace the contents of their closets with heavily starched white dress shirts, three-inch wide red ties and boxy suit jackets at least two sizes too large. The only embellishment allowed, perhaps, is the candidate’s choice of American flag pin. The dress code projects maturity, responsibility, and above all, hyper-masculinity, which means that for a presidential hopeful to don footwear in the same vein as that worn by teen Britpop idols is a fashion faux pas of the highest order.

But Rubio’s shoes haven’t garnered attention solely from men still uneasy about the mainstreaming of the word “metrosexual”. Nearly eight years after then-vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin faced scorn and scandal for her $150,000 wardrobe makeover – the tab for which was picked up by the Republican National Committee – Republican candidates have stuck to fashion tastes as conservative as their politics as a method of separating themselves from the urban elite. Fancy shoes, snug suits, and $1,250 haircuts are the mark of effete liberals who never sit down to supper in their undershirt, no matter how hot the weather gets.

The result has been a generation of candidates in unsuitable suits. Current speaker of the House Paul Ryan may have shared a ticket with Mitt Romney, but he certainly didn’t share a tailor ; Cruz’s overcoat makes him look like three children stacked on top of each others’ shoulders; Bush apparently sported the same grey half-zip jumper for four straight days in December.

One candidate, at least, didn’t think that Rubio’s heels were too tall. Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive and the only woman running in the Republican presidential primary, scoffed at the senator’s pitiful mid-rises: “Yeah, Marco, but can you rock these?” she told Independent Journal, with an accompanying picture of her 3.5-inch heels.

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