Did Rishi Sunak just kill the hoodie?

‘I’m not a regular chancellor, I’m a cool chancellor’ – Olivia Petter considers Mr Sunak’s unlikely fashion choice 

Sunday 29 November 2020 08:24 GMT
<p>It’s the shirt and tie that make the outfit clash so awkwardly</p>

It’s the shirt and tie that make the outfit clash so awkwardly

For a child, there is no moment quite as jarring as the one in which you spot a teacher in the wild. The second you see Mr Jones outside the school grounds without his suit and briefcase – instead wearing an Adidas tracksuit and picking up a microwave dinner from Sainsbury’s – his authority crumbles. And Adidas becomes chronically uncool.

Now, Rishi Sunak has created one such moment. In photographs released by the Treasury, the chancellor was wearing a hooded grey sweatshirt as he thumbed through red box documents ahead of Wednesday’s spending review announcement.

The problem isn’t just that a government minister is wearing a hoodie – no, we wouldn’t be that prescriptive. It’s that Mr Sunak is channeling a distinctive “teacher-out-of-the-classroom” aesthetic. For he is wearing his hoodie – a piece of casual athleisure – on top of a shirt and red tie, the neck gaping to reveal a perfectly starched white collar, the loungewear and the office wear creating a disturbing juxtaposition.

Many Britons have spent the last eight months wearing casual attire. Clothes designed for relaxation have swaddled us as we’ve adapted to remote working. So much so, that many of us stopped getting properly dressed at all, with the demand for loungewear surging as much as 49 per cent in May. Like many of us, Mr Sunak has clearly embraced a new way of working and new clothes in which to do so.

It’s not the first time he’s been spotted in a hoodie. In May, Mr Sunak tweeted a photograph of himself working from home in a (different) grey hooded sweatshirt. The tweet immediately went viral, with social media users fawning over the cool guy chancellor, who was swiftly nicknamed “Dishy Rishi”.

We’ve also seen Mr Sunak out and about in his workout gear – he once told Tatler that he tries to go for a run once a week – and he has expressed his love for his Peloton spinning bike.

But this time is different. Mr Sunak has posed for this photograph and done so at a pivotal moment: just before he steps out to discuss a spending plan that will be crucial in supporting the millions of people in the UK for whom the pandemic has caused financial turmoil.

While some have hailed the chancellor for his furlough scheme and pandemic support packages, others have heavily criticised his decisions during the coronavirus outbreak, with shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds describing them as “irresponsible” and having left Britons facing “the worst economic downturn in the G7” while also pushing hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment. And yet, now is the time that Mr Sunak seems to be begging to be seen as a “man of the people”.

This is made all the more jarring when you consider that the hoodie has long been a sartorial symbol of subversion. After being designed by Champion in the 1930s as a way of protecting warehouse workers in New York from extreme weather conditions during the winter, it was adopted by athletes in the 1970s before being embraced by the subsequent grunge and hip-hop scenes, providing both literal and metaphorical anonymity from society’s conventions.

Today, the hoodie remains a prominent status symbol among those seeking to represent the counterculture. Consider Billie Eilish, the teenage pop superstar who frequently wears loose-fitting hooded sweatshirts on the red carpet as a way of defying societal pressures placed on women’s bodies.

Billie Eilish at the iHeart Radio Awards in January 2020

All things considered, it’s jarring that Mr Sunak chose not simply to wear a hoodie in that photo, but to wear one over a suit and tie, thus blending two aesthetics that couldn’t be further from one another in terms of cultural and social significance.  

Perhaps, though, the ensemble is a refreshing break from the stoic sartorial sensibilities conveyed by so many other politicians. It’s certainly a preferable approach to Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, whose ill-fitting fleeces, puffer jackets and pant-revealing jeans appeared to be a direct balking at the unspoken Downing Street dress code.

But it’s rather rich for the chancellor to suggest he’s down with the kids when this is a man who drinks coffee from a £180 “smart mug” and exercises on a £1,990 spinning bike. Mr Sunak wants us all to think that he’s one of us. If anything, his hoodie reminds us that he’s not – and probably never will be.

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