|Boris Johnson. Picture from Flickr: Think London|
OK, clearly this time you’ll think I’ve gone mad. But I was watching the excellent “This Week” last night and they had what they described as “fashion bully” Trinny Woodall discussing politicians and how they dress.
They went through the inevitable isn’t-Nick-Clegg-well-tailored-these-days routine (of course he is, he’s deputy PM and has to represent us abroad) and how Barack Obama adds stature to a suit rather than the other way around. They also mentioned how a number of Labour activists in the 1980s tried to break the mould a bit when they took to wearing deliberately scruffy and out of place clothes on the podium, making sure they didn’t look the classic politician part at all. This backfired on them because ordinary people expect someone to make a bit of effort when they’re rolling up to the front door and asking for a vote.
Conversation then turned to two politicians: Ken Clarke and Boris Johnson. Michael Portillo said people actually liked Ken Clarke’s bad shoes, and they loved Boris Johnson in spite of the appalling dress sense.
Actually in my view both of these men are pulling the same trick as the Labour men in the 1980s – but doing it rather better.
The thing about the Labour types was that they were deliberately shunning smart appearance. This wasn’t “I’m not wearing a suit”, it was “I’m wearing anything I damned well like”. This is the right thing to do in all sorts of contexts but not when you’re looking for support from complete strangers, businesspeople etc.
Boris and Ken play a much more subtle game. They wear the suits but then get something slightly wrong. Clarke famously wears his suede Hush Puppies, and Johnson was once caught out on “Have I Got News for You” by comedian Paul Merton, who said he’d had neat hair before the show and only after going into makeup did he look dishevelled. This isn’t “I’m wearing what I like”, it’s “I’m playing the game and putting the suit on but I’m not immaculate and flawless, I’m ordinary and average just like you.” The voter identifies with the politician and some sort of rapport is struck.
The really clever bit is that neither of these guys is ordinary or average, and my guess is that Johnson in particular knows exactly how to play on his image. That’s a debate for somewhere else – but don’t ever believe that someone with Boris Johnson’s upbringing doesn’t know exactly what to ask for from a tailor, nor how to look immaculate should he so choose.