Code in Fashion

Code in Fashion - Tamara Cincik for Fabiana

Fashion is a huge part of the marketing strategy for any aspiring politician, because it is a key determinant in whether people who have never met you, will trust and vote for you. For politicians, this comes with a unique set of challenges: think what you want to represent and do it clearly. Keep it local: wear brands from your own country and don’t overreach.

Think then, of Theresa May wearing £995 brown leather trousers for The Sunday Times, soon after taking the premiership, as a warning for all wanting to walk the tightrope of public life. Subsequently, it was claimed that her former joint chief of staff Fiona Hill had called in the clothes. By not checking the price point, what should have been a soft pitch piece to refocus the PM as an everywoman at home – albeit the leader of a government guiding the UK through Brexit after several years of Austerity, became political nitroglycerin. On-the-sofa May became symbolised as Marie Antoinette at Petit Trianon playing at being a farmhand, while Paris starved.

Out of touch, over-indulged, removed. Dangerous for any public figure who consistently needs to know the prices of milk, bread and butter, as Mrs Thatcher famously did and David Cameron famously didn’t – and look where he has taken us.

Back to Melania Trump and her recent Africa tour wardrobe of pith helmet and khakis. As Klara Glowczewska wrote for Town and Country: “It was not clothing, but costume. And costume always attracts attention, invites interpretation, and sends its own message.”

Having a stylist (who avoids costume drama!) takes budget, but arguably in a world where digital access creates a 24/7 platform and the political landscape is this fragile, it’s a cost worth spending, With the red tops always on the hunt for a story and on a day when matters personal and deep rooted, clothing can be a key to winning any forthcoming election, an opportunity to win over voters who are swayed by public perception.

There is a really fine line between being authentic and seeming fake. The world is now saturated with content and reaction to our every nuanced move. New politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who last year worked in a bar while campaigning, overturning an incumbent candidate, will in January become the youngest Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She smashes it. Red lipstick, wide smile, smart. She has a millennial’s intuitive understanding of her online audience. Her Instagram is personal, personable and resonates with new inclusive policy ideas to galvanise her local community.

Fashion makes the UK £30bn a year (fishing makes £1.4bn GVA), employing almost 1m workers. Globally, if it were a nation state, it would be the 7th richest economy.

Michelle Obama visited London this month: tickets for her talk at The South Bank sold out in seconds. Gal-Dem have launched a pop up in partnership with Penguin in celebration of her book “Becoming”, where she tackles the challenge of taking on the huge role as Flotus. “your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” 

Gal-Dem pose the question for one event: “What would Michelle Do? (if women ruled the world)”. From Michelle, the audience was treated to the most impassioned, inclusive and intersectional speech while wearing a cool outfit on stage, a white outfit, which supported who she is, respecting her audience and did not consume her in costume parody.

If there is one lesson all of our politicians could learn from this, it is to be more Michelle : hire a stylist, or don’t, wear high end if you can afford to sometimes, but mix it with high street. Know your audience and communicate with them authentically. What you wear really does matter.

Published: Fashion Roundtable