The Politics Of Dress


One of the many things for which President Obama has received praise is his dress sense. Sadly, that is not something any of the Prime Ministerial hopefuls in the UK General Election will have to endure.

It seems that in modern British politics there is no place for style, flair, individuality or even quality. The requirement is to dress like a high–street bank manager, as the recent leadership debate highlighted beautifully. Standard issue uniform is a choice of plain midnight blue single breasted worsted wool suit, plain white or blue shirt and one of six shiny coloured ties – red, blue, yellow, green, pink or purple. Nowhere will you see the skilful use of textured cloths or the addition of knitted silk and god forbid a shirt should have a stripe, check or white collar and cuff. Their off duty wardrobes equally leave something to be desired.

In many ways politicians are a reflection of the people they govern. That may mean the majority of the people in the UK dress in a perfunctory and uninspiring way – which isn’t far from the truth. Or perhaps it is a sign of our immaturity that we should distrust men who dress well, or resent them having money to spend on clothes.

Winston Churchill was a patron of Savile Row’s Henry Poole & Sons – as they like to remind us. But should modern Prime Ministerial aspirants flirt with proper tailoring they cannot afford to let the public know they spend £3000 on a suit. Of course if you understand the art and craft that goes into such a suit it seems more reasonable, but most don’t. Indeed, we’re more likely to praise them for their thriftiness.

Historically British Prime Ministers have done reasonably well in the style stakes, with many developing signature looks. The most revered was of course Anthony Eden who is still regarded as one of the World’s best dressed men even today – the Eden Homburg being his legacy. Churchill had a certain Edwardian style; he also had his hats, and a tendency to dress in Forces uniforms. For Liberal Lloyd George it was capes, and Benjamin Disraeli was renowned for his fancy waistcoats which merely added to his exotic persona –perhaps one more reason why each in his own way is a man I admire.


  1. sami noiri said:

    This article is so true, and it really made me think. How are you meant to choose from these 3, they are all represent that same minority – white, middle aged, upper-middle income, fashionless, generally middle-conservative….

    Those 3 shots of the candidates exemplify the bland tasteless UK society has become recent years – food, fashion, and lifestyles, even the weather!

    I love Brit to this day for its grit, its punk fashions and raw music.

    April 22, 2010
  2. Derrik Ollar said:

    It would make a nice exercise to email this article in the form of a letter to the editor of all the major papers and also directly to each of the candidates offices. Who knows, one of these guys might just wise up and start dressing sharper. If one does, he’ll easily stand apart from all of the others. Right now they look like triplets, and mediocre ones at that. How do you choose from three equals?

    April 22, 2010
  3. Patrick said:

    Politicians worldwide dress like this. It’s very lame. I think they’re afraid to deviate in the slightest from this uniform. In times when a candidate’s choice of dijon mustard is considered a mark of elitism, it’s not a surprise. Sometimes I think they even purposely wear ill-fitting clothing to look like an everyman.

    April 22, 2010
  4. I agree totally. Style should be about displaying what you want to portray to the world. I am sure if just one politician went away from the social “norms” they would have some backlash, but at the same time be very successful…because you would polarize people and still gain interest from the people who dont agree with your individuality.

    April 22, 2010
  5. gary said:

    the worst is berlusconi in his high heeled shoes and a double breasted like al capone

    April 23, 2010
  6. Paul Hardy said:

    On the BBC website article which Gary highlighted; notable how the writer doesn’t think there’s a difference between bespoke and made-to-measure…

    April 23, 2010
  7. “dress like a high–street bank manager” sometimes it makes you stop and think; where down history did we bring up these boxes we’re trapped in today! True, in most countries politicians seem to stick-like-glue to standard dress code. Derrik brought up a good point: “one of these guys might just wise up and start dressing sharper”. It made me think: do these guys believe the general public adores their dress? Do their advisors tell them they’ll be better off sticking to standard dress code? And more importantly, do they ever listen to real people on the street?
    Mark Martinez,

    April 23, 2010
  8. Patrick said:

    It’s a shame we probably won’t ever have another treaty signing as stylish as Yalta. What president could pull of a cape now?

    April 26, 2010

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