The spin-doctoring of politicians' appearances has been a fascinating development of modern times. Remember the furore over President Barack Obama’s 2014 tan suit, or the much-derided "scrunchie" Hillary Clinton chose to pull her hair back into in 2012? With the advent of social media, everyone is a political pundit, and a fashion critic, often combined. And we journalists of each school are frequently asked to do double-duty.
However, while politics isn’t especially fashionable, I’d argue that fashion always has a part to play in the political arena. Appearance is your first impression. It’s tough to convince people to trust you if you’re got up in the wrong garb. It isn’t a politician’s first job to look good; nevertheless they have become, over the past two decades, increasingly aware of the importance of the right clothes, or in Mrs Clinton’s case, the right hairstyle.
But we don’t trust politicians who show too much concern for their appearance. Two years before the tan-suit furore, in a 2012 Vanity Fair profile, Mr Obama was quoted as stating: “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits … I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” That’s the rhetoric we want politicians to spout. The clothes on their back should be the last thing they’re thinking about, even though they’re the first thing we notice. How’s that for a conundrum?
Maybe this is the secret of Jeremy Corbyn, the unexpected front-runner for the Labour leadership. Where attire is concerned, he enters in a low-key fashion. Generally, that’s the case with men – compare the column inches devoted to Margaret Thatcher with those devoted to John Major, and you’ll see what I mean. And don’t get me started on Hillary.
There’s something truly earnest and unaffected about Corbyn’s attire. It’s odd we’re paying it so much consideration, because I genuinely doubt he does. But his appearance is, perhaps, one of his most appealing qualities. I don’t know if he actually does care about his clothes, in the way that, say, Tony Blair did. But he doesn’t seem to. That’s endearing.
What’s also engaging to voters within the party, and potentially without, who see Corbyn’s election as the last stand-off between New Labour and its socialist roots, is … well, the fact that Corbyn looks like a leftie. He’s been affecting a baker-boy cap of late. As a fashion editor, I ally that immediately to a Gucci show from last January, though that’s news to Corbyn. As a Brit of a certain age, it reminds me of the Tooting Popular Front’s Wolfie from the Seventies TV series Citizen Smith. Islington North is close enough.
Corbyn dresses abysmally. That’s a great thing. It’s great because it’s genuine, unlike Yulia Tymoshenko’s hair, or Blair’s capped tooth. Some could argue it’s a ruse – but it’s actually not bad enough to be fake. Corbyn isn’t dressed in red, and isn’t always wearing that hat. It also isn’t as if he’s completely ditched the traditional politician’s suit for the blue-collar garb of the working man – he wears creased and crumpled suits, and a slackly knotted tie, as if absent-mindedly pulled on, in haste, while he’s dealing with other more pressing stuff. I think fashion is important – but that’s my job. I can’t help but agree with Obama, that politicians should have more important things to think about than what’s going on their backs.
Labour leadership: The Contenders
Labour leadership: The Contenders
1/4 Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn readily admits he is only standing to ensure the left of the party is given a voice in a contest dominated by candidates promising to move the party towards the centre-ground of British politics
Profiles by Matt Dathan
2/4 Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham is the current front-runner to win the leadership election according to bookmakers, but the fact that the Conservative party leadership hopes he wins shows the task that awaits if he is Ed Miliband’s successor. He will have to find a way of distancing himself from both the last five years under Mr Miliband and the Blair and Brown years, during which he served in the Cabinet
3/4 Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper will also face a battle in convincing voters she offers a sufficient break with the past, having served in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet and she played a key role in Mr Miliband’s team as shadow home secretary. The fact that her husband is Ed Balls will not have a negative impact internally but voters are not likely to look favourably on the prospect of Mr Miliband’s ousted shadow chancellor entering Downing Street if Ms Cooper wins in 2020
4/4 Liz Kendall
Liz Kendall faces criticism over her lack of experience – she was only elected in 2010 and has no experience of serving in government and wasn't even in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. But that very lack of experience means she can make a pitch as the only candidate offering real change and a real break from the Blair/Brown/Miliband years
I hope no spin-doctor gets their hands on Corbyn and attempts to rinse the red out, or to cap his teeth. I prefer my politicians without a veneer, of any sort.
If Corbyn becomes PM, he’d be the first to sport a beard since the Marquess of Salisbury left the post in 1902. What a stupid thing to state – but beards are indicative of intelligentsia, of beatniks and “lefties”, latterly of “hipsters”, whose politics are assumed to be similarly liberal. For reasons other than the endangered species of the beard in politics, Corbyn also stands well apart from his opponents: both from the doughy and depilated face of David Cameron greased into his slick suits or from those within his own party; Yvette Cooper, for instance, a sheepish socialist in Conservative clothing.
Originally, I was going to, facilely, encourage Corbyn’s in-party opponents – Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall – to “Get the Look”. Possibly with images of Wolfie, or Greenham Common protesters, earnest types whose clothes express their political seriousness in a way, oddly, few politicians’ actually do. But why not just encourage them to just “Do a Corbyn”, to actually uphold some of the socialist principles so ingrained in Labour itself? And to really not really give a damn what they’re wearing?
Doesn’t sound very modern, but it does sound real, and something even a facile frock-watcher like me could get behind.Reuse content