As I watched the chancellor of the exchequer explain the main points of the government’s long-awaited spending review on TV the other day, what struck me most was not the scale of the spending cuts, which I (and probably most people) had expected, but the state of some of the male politicians who booed and yaared around him.
Even though Britain practically invented the modern suit, and has some the world’s best tailors, its politicians seem to wear clothing that has been bought at an ASDA supermarket. By their mums.
Why do politicians dress so blandly? For one thing, they don’t like to be seen to waste public money. We only really see them when they are being interviewed or taking part in debates on TV. We see their shirts, their ties and their suit jackets. If any of these are flashy, then the media and the public will question how they were paid for (public money?). In terms of clothing, fiscal responsibility translates into a baggy dark-coloured suit, garish silk tie and nondescript white shirt. The result is Prime Minister’s Questions sessions that resemble a used car salesmen’s conference in an English Heritage property.
Another reason for blandness is because politicians are busy people, and busy people cannot waste their precious time on clothing. But is this really a valid excuse? How long does it take to find a few well-fitting suits and shirts, and a few nice ties? No more than a few Saturday afternoon shopping sessions, surely. And besides, most high-profile politicians have media managers and stylists who are paid to make sure they look the part. What on earth are they up to? Day-Glo ties in party colours are a good idea, then? Really?
Not many post-war ministers have dared to care about the clothes that they wear. Anthony Eden (pictured above left) was one of the few. In fact his love for the Homburg hat led to it being referred to as the “Anthony Eden”. William Hague, the current foreign secretary (above right), looks decidedly scruffy when compared with Eden. If he decided to buy better fitting clothes, he would look far more statesmanlike (though to be fair to Hague, he is actually one of the better dressed politicians. Well, at least when he’s wearing a suit).
It would be nice to see a few more style-savvy politicians, ones that are aware of the positive impact that well-fitting clothes can have on their public image. And they don’t have to pay exorbitant amounts of money in order to look smarter; what’s important is fit. Though even if they do decide to splash out on bespoke, like David Cameron did, does it have to be a big deal? Cameron paid for his suit with his own money, after all. No sane politician would charge a £3,500 Richard James’ to his expense account.
When politicians who frequent the global stage, such as the prime minister and foreign secretary, decide to wear well-fitted, British-made suits and shirts and – hopefully – decent ties, it should be something to applaud. It not only shows the world that Britain means business, it also shows support for British craftsmanship and manufacturing during economically difficult times.