Features Australia

Clothes maketh the MP

26 January 2017

3:00 PM

26 January 2017

3:00 PM

Like many women watching Donald Trump’s swearing in as the 45th President of the United States of America, I held my breath. Unlike my marching sisters, I wasn’t about to start blaming him for every crime against humanity, but rather I was feeling for his wife who had the weight of the world’s expectations on her shoulders as she prepared to make her entrance as putative First Lady. After a raft of designers had gone public and refused to dress her, it was always going to be an anxious moment. After all, as a former model, Melania Trump knew that a dodgy stiletto, a hemline too short or a colour from last season would set off the siren’s wail from the fashion police.

As she stood on the stage however even her harshest critic was forced to concede that Mrs Trump’s pale blue dress and jacket combination hit a home run. She was dressed ‘occasion appropriate’ and ushered in a new elegance. It was just a pity her Donald didn’t get the same memo; an ill-fitting suit, a tie well past his belt (an attempt to slim his girth maybe?), and a boxy overcoat that said gangster more than statesman – forget the crowd size, this was the take-out the media missed.

Now you might think I’m being tough here, after all, isn’t what he said more important than what he wore? And that’s a fair point, if you’re Mr Joe Average. But when you’re a politician, your ‘look’ is often your strongest advertisement. Like it or not, the image of a politician is an important business. If you’re in any doubt, take a look at the front page of the Times last week where British PM Theresa May’s check pantsuit was critiqued in almost as much depth as the Brexit speech she gave in it (not least of all the GBP1000 price tag). Who hasn’t seen a press conference with a tie skewwhiff and been distracted enough to want to reach into the TV and fix it?

In an image conscious world and a blisteringly fast news cycle, a politician’s image is key. Let’s start with the tie.

Grown men who persist with a dinky school-boy knot just amplify the fact that they haven’t grown up. Even worse is the MP who thinks a full Windsor is a good option. Unless your name really is Windsor (and HRH something to boot), give it a miss and run with the half Windsor instead. It locks the knot in place better than super glue and gets the viewers focus back on the message, rather a scrap of off centre silk.

Keep ties to plain block colours and if patterned, the design must be simple and small. If you’re ruddy faced, or a boozer, avoid red or purple tones. Don’t wear green on a racetrack and invest in a quality black tie for funerals. If it’s a formal dress code, there’s only one rule – a plain silk black bow-tie that you must tie yourself – no ifs, no buts.

The current trend of leaving the tie off a business suit? Don’t get me started! Maybe you can get away with it if you’re a start-up wunderkind just learning to shave, but if you’re an MP expecting the support of Middle Australia then respect their code of propriety and wear a tie. If you want to be casual in a suit, remove the jacket, not the tie, and roll up the shirt sleeves if you must (but only mid-way between wrist and elbow, never higher… unless you’re a vet)!

The only shirts that should be seen sans tie are those that are obviously casual and worn with pants other than suit trousers. Cuff links, pocket handkerchiefs and braces, discretely if you must, and never all at once lest you be tagged a spiv which is then hard to shake.

When it comes to the suit, a politician’s best friend (aside from a good poll) is a dark blue suit, two or three button and the best he can afford. This suit is always occasion appropriate and works well on TV. Leave the stripes to the banker and forget the greys, browns and check. A long time past, I watched a senator get to his feet to give a minister a stinging rebuke but when the return volley demanded that the ‘Member for the Marylebone Cricket Club shut his trap’, the bloke in beige’s own goal hit the net.

Along with colour, cut is paramount; it’s a bit like diamonds, only far kinder on the wallet. Don’t wear a waistcoat or the super slim London fit, the calories consumed in Parliament House and the airport lounge mean you’ll look like a sausage splitting on the BBQ within six months. It was no mistake that Barack Obama (and David Cameron) kept to the uniform of a two button blue suit, crisp white shirt and block colour tie. It kept us focussed on the message, not the messenger.

Never forget the cardinal rule of buttoning the suit closed when on the podium to speak. The Donald missed this last week as his tie flapped like an elephant’s trunk in the Washington breeze. But a gentleman knows you never do up the bottom button. If it is a two button suit, just the top and if it is three, remember this ditty (from the top), sometimes, always and never. Of course it goes without saying any ambitious politician who still thinks a double-breasted suit is worth the purchase just demonstrates in one fell swoop that they’re about as relevant as a fax machine. You know who you are; it’s past time to update.

Sitting in more meetings with MPs than I care to remember, I was always struck by how fast a flash of holey sock or hairy leg marked down an otherwise polished look. For about the same cost as lunch at Aussies, there’s no excuse for not wearing dark (and unpatterned) socks that extend up the leg when seated.

Aside from their wife, the politician’s closest relationship should be with his iron (shirt only I must remind, never the suit), closely followed by a tin of nugget. I was known at university to kill off an otherwise worthy suitor if his shoes were a slip-on style, had velcro or any variation thereof. All women like a renovation project but even the most enthusiastic have limits. Personal grooming should not need mentioning but there’s plenty of would-be political careers killed off by pre-selectors who got a whiff of body odour and saved the voter the same inevitable result. Doubly so for halitosis, a comb-over, flakey shoulders, grubby clothing… the list goes on. Jewellery on a bloke, other than a watch and a plain wedding band (and that’s a whole other debate), screams, ‘do not elect me or promote.’

What about the women you ask? Between the politics of the pant suits, heels too high, v-necks too low and everything in between, that’s a column in itself.

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